SIMI VALLEY - In an unusual twist on the national immigration debate, the city of Simi Valley sent a $40,000 bill Wednesday to a church harboring an undocumented immigrant after a protest there over the weekend prompted a police presence.
The United Church of Christ has played host for several months to a Ventura woman named Liliana, a Mexican citizen seeking sanctuary from immigration laws.
On Sunday, the anti-illegal immigration group Save Our State sent a contingent of 100 protesters to Royal Avenue outside UCC, hollering slogans into bullhorns, toting signs and waving American flags. The church’s advocates dispatched more than two dozen counter-protestors who chanted in opposition.
Four Simi Valley Police Department officers arrived to keep an eye on things, swelling to 15 cops as the crowd grew. Aside from a minor scuffle between two protestors, all sides agreed the standoff was peaceful and orderly. Police arrested no one.
But the city was unhappy with footing the bill for the overtime and associated costs and decided someone had to pay.
The church got left holding the check.
That’s from the LA Daily News. But one of my other former employers, the Ventura County Star, reported today that Simi Valley is fixing for a lawsuit because its action stifled the church’s right to protest immigration policies.
“Paying for the cost of a political demonstration like this is paying for protection of freedom of expression, which is the price of living in a democracy,” ACLU attorney Peter Bibring said Wednesday. “If people had to pay, no one would ever demonstrate.”
Blogger and UCLA legal scholar Eugene Volokh makes an appearance, saying that a) regardless of whether the UCC congregation was breaking immigration laws, the city’s action was out of line and b) that Simi politicians are sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong (in federal business).
“They are complaining about a violation that isn’t their law and they are talking about an expense that is an indirect consequence of their illegal conduct,” he said. “On balance, their argument is so very weak, they are likely to lose.”
This is one of the first flashpoints I’ve seen for the sanctuary movement, which was announced with a lot of bluster but has failed to materialize much.