Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo introduced a motion Wednesday that would move LA closer to official status as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants fearing deportation under the Trump Administration. Specifically, LA is on its way to protecting undocumented residents who arrived in the US as children by becoming a “Dreamer Arrest Free Zone.” (Participants in the Obama era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—which allows undocumented young people who entered the US as children to receive two-year renewable protections from deportation—are often referred to as “dreamers.”)
According to Cedillo’s motion, since January, the Trump Administration has taken a number of “actions which threaten the constitutional, civil and human rights of all people living in the United States.”
Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the city has avoided the “sanctuary” label, which LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has stated has no clear definition. In March, in response to Trump’s threats to cut off federal funding for sanctuary jurisdictions, Garcetti asked the federal government to define “sanctuary.”
Cedillo’s motion arrives in response to recommendations in a September 7, report from Peter Schey, the city’s Immigrant Advocate who serves as an advisor to the council.
Schey’s first recommendation was to make LA a “Dreamer Arrest Free Zone.”
“Except in exigent circumstances that may endanger health or safety or result in the destruction of evidence, no DREAMER should ever be arrested by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] in the City of Los Angeles,” Schey said in his report. “If ICE wishes to interview a DREAMER, it can send written notices to appear.”
Part of making the city an arrest-free zone for DACA recipients would involve volunteer lawyers providing “Representation Letters” to DACA youth that could then be presented to federal immigration agents with whom they come into contact.
“Letters instructing ICE that the bearer exercises her/his right to remain silent and any questioning would be unlawful under federal law, will in many cases prevent arrest unless ICE possesses an arrest warrant, something it rarely does,” Schey wrote.
The volunteer attorneys would issue the representation letters at a series of community meetings set up for educating DACA participants and other immigrants of their rights, as well as services for immigrants offered in LA. Additionally, the letters could be made available on an app or website.
Volunteer lawyers should also be prepared to provide “prompt representation” for DACA recipients during bond hearings, in order to get them out of detention as swiftly as possible. “Once immigrants are released from custody, they will have about two years before their deportation cases are heard, leaving a substantial period of time to prepare for their hearings and sort out legal representation,” according to the report.
California boasts the largest immigration court backlog—115,991 pending cases out of 617,527 nationwide, as of July—according to the latest tally by Syracuse University.
Moreover, with resources and funding to community programs offering assistance toward naturalization, LA can further protect Dreamers and help them stay in the US.
Schey’s report also recommends decriminalizing offenses that are mostly committed by low-income and homeless residents, like begging, panhandling, standing, sitting, and resting. The city should also enact a Human Rights Ordinance, according to the report. The ordinance “may extend civil and human rights protections to all City residents, including DREAMERS, based on their “Protected Status.” The Protected Status could include immigration status, race, color, citizenship, religion, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, veteran status, and sexual orientation, among others. Along with the ordinance, Schey recommends the city launch a Human Rights Commission to “hear and adjudicate claims of discrimination, threats, retaliation, etc.”
Cedillo’s motion directs the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst to review Schey’s report and report back in 45 days with recommendations. In addition, the motion would instruct the Chief Legislative Analyst to report back on the feasibility of launching a program for volunteer private lawyers to provide letters of representation to DACA recipients.