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Truthdigger of the Week: Kevin de León, Advocate for 'Sanctuary Cities' and Immigrant Rights

California Senate leader Kevin de León. (Kevin de León / Twitter)

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff has selected a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’ve looked for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

Beginning in May, the editorial staff will honor a Truthdigger of the Month. This change allows a more in-depth look at the worthwhile actions of the individual being honored, and the editorial team is excited to bestow this monthly title.

In a time when many Democrats are facing backlash for their weak opposition to the Trump administration, Kevin de León stands out for his strident opposition and refusal to mince words. The California Senate leader is a vociferous advocate for immigrant rights in the Golden State, and he has made waves with his candid statements about the president’s policies.

Earlier this week, he argued that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration “are basing their law enforcement policies on principles of white supremacy.”

De León was speaking in reaction to the attempt by the Department of Justice to punish so-called sanctuary cities: Last week, DOJ sent letters to several of the communities, warning that they could lose funds if they refuse to comply with federal immigration orders.

Truthdig wrote at the time:

[T]he Justice Department sent letters to nine jurisdictions, or “sanctuary cities,” with an ultimatum: Cooperate with federal immigration authorities or lose federal funding for law enforcement.

Cooperation means local officials must provide proof by June 30 that they are abiding by Section 1373 of federal law, disclosing information on a person’s immigration status to federal immigration officials.

Letter recipients are the California Board of State and Community Corrections, Cook County, Ill., and the following cities: Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City and Philadelphia.

De León published a statement the same day the Justice Department issued the warning letters. “It has become abundantly clear that Attorney General Sessions and the Trump Administration are basing their law enforcement policies on principles of white supremacy—not American values,” the statement read. “Their constant and systematic targeting of diverse cities and states goes beyond constitutional norms and will be challenged at every level.”

He was correct—the threat of funding cuts was challenged in court. Days after the Justice Department declared its intent, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked a Jan. 25 executive order by President Trump that aimed to stifle sanctuary cities.

“The judge, William H. Orrick of United States District Court, wrote that the president had overstepped his powers with his January executive order on immigration by tying billions of dollars in federal funding to immigration enforcement,” The New York Times reported. “Judge Orrick said only Congress could place such conditions on spending.”

“President Trump has tripped over the Constitution again,” de León said in a statement in response to Orrick’s ruling. “A federal judge has rightfully issued a constitutional victory for states, counties and cities.”

In an MSNBC interview Tuesday, de León called the executive order “un-American,” adding: “These executive orders are full of bluster. [They] actually put Americans in a much more dangerous situation.”

De León’s reference to “white supremacy” did not go over well on the GOP side, but the longtime senator is used to Republican criticism for his outspoken stance on immigration.

In December 2016, shortly before Donald Trump assumed office, de León introduced a piece of legislation, CA SB-54, or the proposed California Values Act. The bill intends to make California a “sanctuary state” by barring local and state law enforcement from aiding federal immigration officers.

The Los Angeles Times elaborated:

Senate Bill 54 is at the center of a legislative package that Democratic lawmakers say is meant to extend protections for immigrants under the expanded deportation priorities of the Trump administration. It would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies — including school police and security — from using resources to investigate, detain, report or arrest people for immigration enforcement.

Republican criticism of the bill has been intense, and opponents were quick to point out the bill’s potential flaws. Yet de León has received the full support of California Democrats, and CA SB-54 passed the California Senate earlier this month, after de León accepted several amendments to improve the bill.

The new amendments “would allow sheriff’s deputies to report the release dates of serious and violent felons to ICE,” according to the Times. Changes also “clarified the language of the bill to allow state and local law enforcement agencies to participate in task forces, even when immigration enforcement becomes an element of the investigation.”

De León called the passage of the bill “an acknowledgement of the cultural and economic contributions made to our great state by immigrants and … a rejection of President Trump’s false and cynical portrayal of undocumented residents as a lawless community.”

He continued:

Our precious local law enforcement resources will be squandered if police are pulled from their duties to arrest otherwise law-abiding maids, busboys, laborers, mothers and fathers. Trust will be lost. Crimes will go unreported for fear of deportation. Criminals will remain free to victimize others.

To my colleagues in the Assembly: No one wants dangerous or violent criminals roaming our streets. The California Values Act allows state and local law enforcement to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement before violent or dangerous criminals are released from incarceration and allows their transfer into federal custody for deportation.

But Californians will not squander their precious public safety dollars to separate mothers from their children, to detain DREAMERS, or to deport honest, hardworking people who are so critical to our economy.

In his straightforward tweets, de León regularly calls out other lawmakers for their timid stance on immigration and lambasts Trump on a variety of issues:

De León is the first Latino to be elected president pro tempore of the California Senate in more than 130 years. He has successfully instituted immigration reform laws in California in the past, and he noted on his Facebook page that he “truly embodies the California Dream.”

“I can tell you half of my family would be eligible for deportation under the executive order,” he recently said in an impassioned speech on the California Senate floor. His words prompted numerous Twitter users to call for the arrest of de León and the relatives he cited, yet he has stuck by his mission to protect undocumented immigrants in California.

Kevin de León refuses to be silent or play traditional party politics in his fight to make California a sanctuary state and advance the rights of undocumented immigrants. For this, we name him our Truthdigger of the Week.

Emma Niles
Assistant Editor
Emma Niles, an assistant editor at Truthdig, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in political science. She has worked for the National Women’s Law Center and Ms. Magazine.…
Emma Niles

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