ORANGE, Calif. (FOX 11/CNS) - The Newport Beach and Orange city councils voted Tuesday night to support the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit challenging the so-called sanctuary state law.
In a closed session, the Newport Beach City Council voted 7-0 to authorize City Attorney Aaron C. Harp to have the city join in support of the lawsuit, "including but not limited to an amicus brief,'' according to Deputy City Manager Tara Finnigan.
"The council expressed a strong concern that the city's police department be able to appropriately protect the community from serious criminal activity,'' Finnigan said.
The Orange City Council approved filing an amicus brief in support of the federal suit and reaffirmed a resolution the council passed in 2010 on the immigration issue.
"We believe the sanctuary state law is infringing on federal jurisdiction and that creates an unsafe situation,'' Orange Councilman Fred Whitaker said before the vote. "Our primary beef with it is it limits the amount of communication our law enforcement can have with federal law enforcement.''
Whitaker said Orange is in a "unique'' position on the debate because the city has its own jail, so officials have long coordinated with federal authorities when dealing with a suspect about whom immigration status questions are raised.
Whitaker argued that it is much safer to have a "custody-to-custody transfer'' of suspects from the local agency to the federal government as opposed to letting someone out of the local jail and hoping immigration enforcement authorities can pick them up again to deal with the immigration questions.
Supporters of the state law argue that it does not prevent local officials from notifying federal authorities about violent criminals, only those charged with less serious crimes such as misdemeanors.
Whitaker argued that state laws to reduce prison overcrowding, including some that allow convicts to have felonies reduced to misdemeanors, mean that some violent criminals will be released before ICE can pick them up. He emphasized that the city is addressing an issue of law and order, not the wider immigration reform debate.
"To me, it is primarily a public safety issue,'' Whitaker said. "Don't put the cities in the middle of this. We're supposed to uphold the federal Constitution first and then the state constitution. If I have state legislation directly contradicting federal law and we're supposed to be enforcing both laws it makes no sense.''
The Los Alamitos City Council was the first in Orange County to challenge the state law, voting to "opt out'' of it, which city officials say is legal because it is a charter city.
Most cities have decided that an amicus brief is the least expensive and best option to support Sessions' efforts. Huntington Beach decided to sue to join the federal lawsuit, following Orange County's lead.
The other cities siding with the federal government are Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Fountain Valley, San Juan Capistrano and Yorba Linda.