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Los Angeles Can Take Further Steps to Protect Its Immigrant Neighbors

Los Angeles Can Take Further Steps to Protect Its Immigrant Neighbors


Donald Trump’s presidency represents a serious threat to undocumented immigrants across the country and here in Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti has boldly rejected President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, but if the mayor and locally elected leaders truly want to protect immigrant Angelenos, they must commit to ending “broken windows” policing and other practices, which put many people at great risk of deportation for doing little more than sleeping on a sidewalk.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey has a significant amount of discretion when it comes to recognizing and responding to the threats faced by immigrants who have been arrested for minor infractions. Prosecutors consider factors unrelated to the crime all the time when deciding how to charge an individual. Because President Trump’s Executive Order criminalizes people charged with any crime, however minor, it is vital that prosecutors in sanctuary cities recognize the consequences of charging immigrants with low-level offenses, such as traffic violations or loitering, and use their discretion wisely.

Prosecutors should also stop asking for cash bail, which results in people who can’t afford bail being held in detention. Undocumented immigrants are particularly likely to be cash-poor, and holding them in jail because of an inability to post bail makes them “sitting ducks” for ICE. Studies show that bail has little impact on public safety, and a 2011 state law gives the Board of Supervisors the power to authorize risk-based, no-money pretrial release, but as of early 2017 a cash bail system is still in place.

Mayor Garcetti has supported the California Values Act (SB54), and has said the city will not participate in the President’s deportation program, both of which are important steps. But city officials also have significant discretion over how closely local law enforcement agencies are allowed to cooperate with ICE officials. For example, Mayor Steve Fulop of Jersey City recently signed an executive order barring “local police and government agencies from collaborating with immigration authorities unless mandated by law or a court.” He also ordered that federal authorities get a warrant before searching public facilities. Mayor Garcetti should follow his lead and affirmatively bar the police department from acting as an arm of ICE without a court order.

Furthermore, city councils also have tremendous discretion in determining which minor offenses are considered prosecutable, and a new report by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project urges mayors and city councils to rethink how people are sucked into the criminal justice system. The Los Angeles City Council has taken an important step in decriminalizing street vending, believing that continued criminalization would open dozens of business owners up to deportation. However, according to a 2016 study by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law, the city still has two dozen laws against “sitting, standing, and resting,” “sleeping, camping, and lodging,” and “begging and panhandling.” These laws open residents up to unnecessary contact with law enforcement. Mayor Garcetti and the city council should enact decriminalization ordinances for these kind of offenses.

Because criminal justice reform and sanctuary city policies are inextricably linked, local leaders have a significant impact on protections for undocumented persons. Mayor Garcetti’s commitment to building trust with immigrant communities is admirable, and he and the rest of the city and county government should reinforce that commitment by using the power of the criminal justice system to protect the most vulnerable among us. Isn’t that what our religious traditions call us to — to treat everyone as a citizen and as our kin? I pray that Los Angeles will lead the way to an American table of belonging, accountability, and human flourishing.


Rev. Zachary Hoover is the Executive Director of LA Voice PICO, an interfaith community organization that unites people from diverse backgrounds to improve the quality of life of Los Angeles residents. http://www.lavoice.org/
The views and opinions expressed in this article are Rev. Hoover’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.