Malibu: Sanctuary City?

Martin Sheen, speaking before Malibu City Council

Near the start of the Dec. 12 Malibu City Council meeting, longtime resident, activist and actor Martin Sheen came before council to call on Malibu to become a sanctuary city.

Speaking, he said, on behalf of a group called The Committee in Solidarity with the Most Vulnerable, Sheen said the organization wished to thank council for its earlier resolution in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas.

“As we welcome the incoming members of the Malibu City Council, we want to express our sincere gratitude for the outgoing members for their service and we take special notice for their unanimous support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline at the meeting on Nov. 28,” Sheen said. “In [light] of that heroic resolution, and the heightened level of fear gripping so much of our nation since Nov. 8, we urge the council adopt a resolution declaring the City of Malibu a sanctuary city.”

Should Malibu’s leaders decide to take Sheen’s advice, the city would follow in the footsteps of other municipalities including West Hollywood and Los Angeles.

West Hollywood City Attorney Mike Jenkins, of Jenkins & Hogin, said that though the sanctuary status of that city has “never been an issue,” the implications of the sanctuary status could be realized “down the road.”

When asked whether the proclamation was more of a symbol than a working policy, Jenkins said the two are closely linked.

“I would certainly say there’s a heavy amount of symbolism in it, but I would temper that statement by noting two things: One, that symbolism can be important, because sometimes perception is reality; and two, sometimes something that starts out being symbolic ends up having practical consequences,” Jenkins said, adding, “If federal government in the new administration were to start directing things to happen at the state and local level in regards to immigration, suddenly being a sanctuary city can have real pragmatic consequences that in the past they have not had because nobody’s pushed the point.”

Jenkins also pointed out that both LA County and the City of Los Angeles have declared their own sanctuary status.

The term “sanctuary city,” according to The Economist, does not have one single definition.

“There is no specific legal definition for what constitutes a sanctuary jurisdiction, but the term is widely used to refer to American cities, counties or states that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities,” the magazine wrote in a November 2016 article. “Some decline to use city or state tax dollars to enforce federal immigration laws. Many prohibit local officials from asking people about their immigration status. Sanctuary policies can be mandated expressly by law or practiced unofficially.”

Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin said city council is free to pass such a resolution, describing it as a directive to the local sheriff’s station in the “setting of its priorities.”

“They’re under a contract with us, so we’ll continue to set general priorities, and we would expect the sheriff to cooperate in the city setting of its priorities,” Hogin described. 

“So, more than anything else it’s — I think it’s a message that is sent generally and, I think, in the most specific sense, it’s just an ordering of law enforcement priorities,” she said. “I think those are both things the city council is free to do and, in fact, what they’re elected to do.”

Hogin also mentioned the City of West Hollywood — like Malibu, a contract city with the LA County Sheriff’s Department — is an example of another municipality in LA County that has declared itself a sanctuary city. West Hollywood first “memorialized the sanctuary movement” in 1985, soon after its incorporation, and “reiterated and expanded its sanctuary status in 2001,” according to a West Hollywood city council staff report.