Appellate Court Ruling: Huntington Beach—and Other Charter Cities—are Not Exempt from California’s Sanctuary State Law

In response to the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and its draconian policies, California became a sanctuary state. Among other things, California provides much needed legal protection to undocumented immigrants by limiting the amount of cooperation between state and local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Unfortunately, since the bill was passed, not all local agencies in the state have complied. For example, the Orange County Sheriff found a way to exploit a loophole in the legislation and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office likely violated the law. However, earlier this week, there was some good news for immigrant rights in Southern California. According to reporting from the Los Angeles Times, a state appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that exempted Huntington Beach from the law. 

Huntington Beach Sued on Behalf of ‘Charter Cities’

In 2018, representatives for the City of Huntington Beach filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of California’s sanctuary state law. Notably, Huntington Beach—a relatively large city with more than 200,000 residents—is a charter city. 

This is a complicated, but important legal distinction. As explained by the League of California Cities, there are two types of cities in our state—Charter Cities and General Law Cities. Under the California constitution, charter cities have additional legal authority over municipal affairs. For reference, nearly 25 percent of California’s cities are charter cities. 

Here is the issue as it pertains to immigration law: Huntington Beach argued that California’s constitution rendered the sanctuary state law inapplicable to charter cities. After an initial review, an Orange County Circuit Court judge agreed. Superior Court Judge James Crandal ruled that Huntington Beach, and other charter cities, were exempt from California’s sanctuary state law. 

All Cities in California Must Follow the Sanctuary State Law

On appeal, a three-justice panel from California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals overturned the original decision made in favor of Huntington Beach. While charter cities do indeed have additional municipal authority, the justices state that California’s sanctuary law is consistent with the state’s constitution because it addresses matters of statewide concerns—specifically including public safety and public health. 

The decision has important ramifications. It applies not just to Huntington Beach, but all other charter cities in the state. In other words, as of now, all cities in California are required to follow the sanctuary state law. As of the publishing of this article, there was no indication as to whether or not Huntington Beach would appeal the adverse ruling. Though, it is still a possibility. 

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