Demonstrators show support for immigrants outside the Hall of Justice. Photo by Nicholas Cheng.

Rabbis, other clergy gather in support of sanctuary bill


About 100 protesters from Jewish and other faith groups gathered outside the Hall of Justice on Temple Street to call for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to end cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to support the so-called sanctuary bill.

The demonstrators banged drums and chanted in Spanish and English on the building’s steps, as an elaborate ice sculpture of the word ICE melted under the afternoon sun. Their message to L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was clear: Stop working with ICE.

“My grandfather crossed the Canadian border to come here illegally in 1920. Under [President Donald] Trump’s ICE regime, he would have been sent back to Europe and I would have died in the Holocaust,” said Aryeh Cohen, Rabbi-in-Residence for Bend the Arc.

“We are all immigrants. We know what it’s like to feel vulnerable in a strange land,” said Rabbi Joel Simonds, the Jewish Center for Justice’s executive director. “We want the sheriff to protect us and to advocate for bills that would make us safer.”

Senate Bill 54, scheduled for a State Assembly vote later this month, would limit the information that could be provided to ICE agents on county jail inmates and disallow local law enforcement from sharing information with immigration officials. The bill was introduced in response to the Trump administration’s broadened deportation efforts of undocumented immigrants.

McDonnell opposes the bill, saying that it would hinder custody transfer of violent criminals to federal authorities. The LASD did not respond to requests for comment.

Bill Brown, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff and president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said SB 54 would sever local enforcers from federal resources that they rely on to keep dangerous and violent criminals from returning to the streets.

“I think they [the protestors] should know we are certainly sensitive to the plight of the immigrant community who are law abiding. It is a small element within that community with the express goal to commit crime that we are talking about,” he said.

But Guillermo Torres, senior organizer for Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), said immigrants with no criminal backgrounds have been targeted by ICE — such as Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, 49, who was picked up by agents after dropping off his daughter for school in Lincoln Heights. Avelica-Gonzalez, a Mexican citizen who has lived illegally in the United States for 25 years, had two misdemeanor convictions at the time of his arrest: a DUI in 2008 and another for receipt of stolen car tags in 1998, when a friend gave him a vehicle registration tag that was not issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. ICE officials cited those convictions as reason for detaining and deporting him. In June, his lawyers settled Avelica-Gonzalez’s misdemeanor convictions, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Why would the sheriff want to collaborate with an agency that wants to separate mothers and fathers from their children?” Torres said, before marching with other faith leaders to present a letter to the LASD.

Also at the protest was a smaller group of anti-SB 54 protestors who argued that the bill would protect criminal undocumented immigrants who could do harm.

“We want legal immigrants,” said Robin Hvidston, executive director for Claremont-based We the People Rising, an anti-undocumented immigration group. “Return to your home country and then come to this country, legally.”