In October 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 54, the so-called California Values Act which declared that we are a sanctuary state. In November 2017, this Diocese, through its annual convention passed Resolution 17-05 declaring that this diocese is a sanctuary diocese. Much debate has ensued at the local, state and national levels about immigration, immigration policy and enforcement of existing immigration laws. Recently several southern California city councils, and the San Diego County board of supervisors, have passed resolutions in opposition to SB 54 and/or supporting the Trump administration’s challenge to the California law. In consideration of these events, it is important to understand what SB 54 does and does not say, and to distinguish what the diocese declared in Resolution 17- 05.
SB 54 primarily addresses the mode of enforcement of immigration laws and separates the functions of federal verses state or municipal law enforcement agencies and personnel. The law says that state and local law enforcement will not perform the duties of federal immigration officers, and it restricts state and local officers from aiding the federal authorities on immigration matters, except to the extent required by federal law. For example, the California law prohibits state and local officers and agencies from transferring persons being held in state custody to federal authorities based upon the person’s known or presumed immigration status. The goal of SB 54 is to avoid using state resources to facilitate the deportation (and separation of families) policies of the current federal administration. Those local municipalities who have voiced challenge to the California law appear to be generally in favor of stricter immigration enforcement. This is a long-standing debate.
By contrast, Resolution 17 – 05, declaring this diocese to be a sanctuary diocese is not really focused on enforcement, but rather on offering to be of aid to our brothers and sisters who live in fear of deportation and/or separation. As I explained in this article, our stance as a diocese, is to be clear that “the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego holds itself out to be a place where persons residing or working in this diocese, or their families, regardless of their status, can find comfort, assistance and loving support as they negotiate the difficulties of being an alien in a foreign land.”
Neither the California law, nor our sanctuary resolution advocates the violation of federal law. The current debate over California’s law is understandable, but nonetheless, troubling. Just as there was debate over our resolution, debate over the California law is fine – but I have concerns when the debate or opposition seems rooted in a belief that aliens in our country, regardless of status, are, by definition, undesirable, or somehow not entitled to the full protections of our constitution’s guarantee of due process, and our Christian doctrines of fairness, acceptance and compassion