California city debates sanctuary law exemption

FILE - In this April 14, 2017, file photo, protesters rally outside a courthouse where a federal judge heard arguments in the first lawsuit challengin

FILE - In this March 27, 2018, file photo, David Hernandez, left, Genevieve Peters, center, and Jennifer Martinez celebrate after the Orange County Bo

FILE - In this March 27, 2018, file photo, a group of sanctuary state supporters gather outside the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting in Sant

FILE - In this March 7, 2018, file photo, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses the California Peace Officers' Association at the 26th Annual

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) — The conservative backlash against California's sanctuary law has taken the form of lawsuits and public tongue-lashings.

But one tiny city in Orange County may take the step of declaring itself legally exempt.

On Monday evening, after a peaceful but noisy confrontation by pro- and con demonstrators, the Los Alamitos City Council began hearing hours of public comment on whether it should enact an ordinance exempting the city on grounds that the state law is unconstitutional. No vote had taken place by midnight.

The city of 12,000 argues that the federal government — not the state — has authority over immigration.

It's the same argument made by the Trump administration, which sued California last month. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors in San Diego County — a region of more than 3 million people which has a border with Mexico — will meet to consider joining that suit.

California has portrayed itself as something of a leader in battling Trump administration immigration-control efforts. Leaders at the state level and in big cities have condemned mass raids and deportation efforts, the president's call for a border-spanning wall with Mexico and the attorney general's "zero tolerance" order to prosecute people caught illegally entering the United States for the first time.

Gov. Brown elicited rare and effusive praise from Trump last week for pledging to contribute 400 troops to the National Guard's deployment to the Mexican border. But Brown was clear that California troops will help go after drugs, guns and criminal gangs, but not immigrants.

However well that stance may play in immigrant or largely Democratic enclaves, it has set conservative teeth on edge and sparked a backlash that Republicans have been quick to join.

In recent years, California Republicans have taken a less strident approach to immigration in a state where one in four people are foreign-born. But the Trump administration lawsuit has energized many in a party that has been rendered nearly irrelevant at the state level, where Democrats control every key office.

"When the attorney general of the United States decides to take a firm position against it, I think that gave a signal to a lot of us that, 'Hey, California is on the wrong side of this thing,'" said Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Republican Party in Orange County. He also is a councilman in the city of Orange who proposed a local resolution on the issue that passed last week.

Some of the supervisors pushing the issue in Orange and San Diego counties are Republicans running for Congress, said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.