By Jim Tortolano
After nearly five hours and nearly 90 speakers, the Westminster City Council voted Wednesday night to join with other Orange County cities in opposing Senate Bill 54.
The vote was 3-1, with Councilman Sergio Contreras opposed and Councilwoman Kimberly Ho absent.
It was a meeting filled with emotion, anger and sometimes insults. The 75-seat council chamber overflowed and a large crowd waited outside as people waited for a chance to enter and express their opinions on what’s officially called the California Values Act.
What the council eventually decided was to file an “amicus curiae” brief along with other jurisdictions in support of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions suit against California that challenges the bill – which limits some communications between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials – as unconstitutional.
DeLeon sought to assure the audience that the law would survive legal challenges.
“I’m here to say, this law is constitutional,” he said. “It’s supported by the 82nd Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, and we look forward to our day in court, as we have filed an amicus brief against the President’s lawsuit.” He added that “the genesis of the law” was to keep cities and counties from “spending local resources” for a federal responsibility.
Mike McCoy, from a group called We The People Rising, insisted that opposition to SB 54 had no racial element. “It’s been implied that if you are against SB 54, you are anti-immigrant.” Not true, he said. “If you’re here legally, you’re fine. If you’re here illegally or overstay your visa, you have to go.” He finished his remarks with “God bless our President Trump. Build the wall, make it tall and deport them all.”
Along with statistics and constitutional arguments, the statements at the podium and inside the crowd included some harsh language.
Jeff LeTourneau, vice-chair for North Orange County for the Democratic Party of Orange County, attacked Councilwoman Margie Rice, who had asked to have the issue placed on the agenda. “I see an old, tired, privileged white woman,” he said, to jeers and boos.
Throughout the evening, members of the crowd interrupted speakers, and Mayor Tri Ta used his gavel repeatedly to warn people about the courtesy to be accorded people making public comments. Police circulated in the chamber to limit taunts and arguments that threatened to boil over.
One woman claimed another had called her a “bitch” and across the room, an opponent of SB 54 called former Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen a “bastard.”
Much of the support for the law came from members of the Vietnamese community, which drew parallels with their own immigrant experience. Some cited Westminster’s diverse population as an example of the city’s past support for immigrants.
However, Tra – himself a refugee who left Vietnam after the Communist takeover – emphasized the importance of going through the proper legal process to enter the country.
“I came to the United States in 1992 at age 19,” he said. His uncle had been able to escape after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and he sought to sponsor his entire family to follow him to America. “We had to wait 10 years for an interview.” After being classified political refugees, it still took about two years to get permission to enter the U.S., he said. “We had to wait 12 years,” he emphasized,” to get legal status to come to America.
After the council finally voted, many members of the crowd lingered and sniped verbally at each other. Outside the chamber, a group of pro-54 people chanted “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!” A few feet way, anti-54 persons sang, “We Are the Champions” to celebrate the council’s decision.