LA-Area Congressman Co-Sponsors Bill to Let Victims Sue ‘Sanctuary Cities’

February 9, 2021 Updated: February 9, 2021

LOS ANGELES—A congressman representing parts of northern Los Angeles County announced Feb. 9 he is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow victims of crimes committed by immigrants in the country without legal permission in Los Angeles and other so-called “sanctuary cities”’ to sue the city if it did not honor an immigration detainer request from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, said in a statement he is co-sponsoring the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act to hold cities “accountable for their inactions.” The bill was first introduced in the Senate by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, in July 2019.

Because the U.S. Constitution’s 11th Amendment is often interpreted as preventing individuals from suing states in federal court without consent, the bill would require states and their political subdivisions to give consent for being sued as a condition of receiving certain federal grants, according to the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

After consent is given, victims would be able to sue a sanctuary city if it ignored an immigration detainer from DHS. A detainer, or “immigration hold” is used by ICE agents to apprehend immigrants in the country without legal permission who come into contact with local law enforcement agencies. It is a written request for a local jail or agency to detain a person for an additional 48 hours to give ICE agents time to decide if they will take the person into federal custody, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The term sanctuary city generally applies to municipalities that limit cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement. California has been a sanctuary state since 2017, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill stopping local and state agencies from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement regarding undocumented immigrants who have committed misdemeanors.

The Los Angeles Police Department has had a longstanding policy of not initiating contact with individuals based solely on their immigration status and does not give immigration agents access to its jails or inmates unless they have a federal warrant.

Because of those policies, Los Angeles has often been referred to as a sanctuary city, and in February 2019, Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a resolution to say that Los Angeles is a “city of sanctuary, protecting the human rights of all our residents.”

Garcia said in a statement Monday that he believed sanctuary cities need to be held accountable: “We must uphold law and order in our cities and communities. Cities that refuse to uphold the law should be held accountable for their inactions. Refusing to honor DHS’s detainer requests has dire consequences,” he said.

“We need to make public safety a priority and releasing dangerous criminals back into our communities does the opposite. Not only does it make our nation less safe, but it leaves no room for the victims of these offenders to obtain justice. The Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act will improve public safety and hold sanctuary cities accountable for the danger they impose
on our communities.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez could not immediately be reached to provide responses.