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'Charter Cities' Like Huntington Beach Aren’t Exempt From Sanctuary State Law, Court Says

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The California Court of Appeal ruled that a state law limiting police collaboration with federal immigration authorities does not interfere with a charter city's rights. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for MoveOn.org)

A California appeals court ruled Friday that California's so-called "sanctuary state" law does not violate a charter city's rights, a reversal of a lower court's decision.

Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, was signed into law in 2017 and limits the ability of state and local law enforcement agencies to work with federal immigration authorities, except in cases where immigrants have been convicted of serious or violent crimes.

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The law argues that "[e]ntangling state and local agencies with federal immigration enforcement programs diverts already limited resources and blurs the lines of accountability between local, state, and federal governments."

After the law was enacted, the city of Huntington Beach in southeast Los Angeles sued the state, arguing that SB 54 would interfere with the effectiveness of its police force.

The city also made the case that because it is governed by a voter-approved charter — rather than by the general law of California — it is afforded more autonomy.

That position was supported by an Orange County judge in 2018.

In Friday's decision overturning that earlier ruling, a panel of judges on the California Court of Appeal said that the sanctuary law does not violate the constitution as applied to charter cities because "it addresses matters of statewide concern" and "is narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary interference in local government."

"We are disappointed by the Court of Appeal decision," said Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates. "If this fight for Constitutional Rights does not continue here and in other cities, then the State will eventually literally be able to dictate every aspect of local governance, which would render local governance pointless."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that he is pleased with the decision, adding that SB 54 "furthers the state’s interests in addressing matters of statewide concern—including public safety and health, effective policing, and protection of constitutional rights."

Gates, the Huntington Beach City Attorney, said he plans to discuss next steps with the City Council, including potentially appealing the decision to the California Supreme Court.


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