The Fight for Sanctuary in Los Angeles: A Revolutionary Demand

By Promise Li


Since its inception in mid-February of this year, the Sanctuary City Working Group of the Los Angeles chapter of DSA has secured major victories for sanctuary policies. The group was formed by a group of DSA-LA organizers who are intent on connecting the immediate fight for sanctuary cities to the larger struggle for a just and democratic society.

In March, the group planned and executed its first action – staging a protest at Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s election night celebration. By March, four months had passed since Trump’s election, and Garcetti had still refused to pursue sanctuary policies. The mayor had also refused to meet with the dozens of immigrants’ rights activist groups working towards sanctuary policies under the ICE Out of LA coalition. DSA-LA aimed to use direct action to pressure the mayor to pursue concrete sanctuary policies that would prevent federal immigration authorities from collaborating with local law enforcement officials.

Hundreds of activists joined DSA-LA outside Garcetti’s celebration venue to protest his inaction, and some DSA-LA members were able to interrupt Garcetti during his victory speech on multiple occasions. As Garcetti’s security forcibly removed DSA-LA members, the socialist organizers began to chant “ICE out of LA!” This action was widely covered by local media, from the Los Angeles Times to Variety magazine. And just two weeks after the DSA-LA action, Garcetti signed Executive Directive No. 20, a progressive executive policy document that begins to address some of the problems that immigrant rights groups in Los Angeles had been trying to bring up to the mayor for years.

The scale and effectiveness of the Garcetti action drew the attention of local immigrants’ rights organizations and workers’ centers. Since March, our members began to support community partners like the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) to continue plugging in DSA-LA members to local actions and rallies for immigrants’ rights. One of those is the ongoing ”Free Romulo” campaign, waged in support of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, whose detainment by ICE agents right after dropping off his daughter at school in Lincoln Heights attracted international coverage. Eventually, the working group members were invited to the planning meetings of the ICE Out of LA coalition, composed of Los Angeles community members, immigrants’ rights organizations, legal advocates, and workers’ centers, devoted to fighting deportations and criminalization of immigrant workers. Participation with the coalition has allowed the group to develop closer connections with these community partners, through which we are able to learn more about the different fronts and tactics to combat anti-immigrant policies.

Since the Garcetti action, the working group has met weekly to develop organizational and theoretical capacity. In addition, members of the working group attend and participate in planning meetings with the ICE Out of LA coalition. These activities allow us to continue developing a socialist analysis of the sanctuary movement in the Left, researching relevant policy and local, state, and federal bills, and devising other actions and public events to support the efforts of undocumented immigrants and our community partners.

The group learned about the promising sanctuary policies in California State Senate bills introduced by liberal politicians like State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon – which however were subsequently revised to protect only a fraction of those the politicians claimed to defend. An example is California State Bill 6, or the Due Process for All Act, which would require California to pay for legal representation for those fighting deportation in court with a statewide Justice Fund. Under pressure from centrist Democrats and conservatives in the state senate, the architects of this bill rewrote it to deny access to this legal representation fund for immigrants with criminal records, subsequently renaming the bill “Expanding Due Process Act.” The Los Angeles City Council and the city’s Board of Supervisors followed suit, revising their LA Justice Fund bills to unjustly exclude countless more immigrants from the basic human right of due process.

Senator De Leon also introduced SB-54, another progressive piece of legislature that risks suffering the same fate. The original version of the bill would have dampened coordination between local enforcement and ICE by preventing local and state police from sharing information with ICE when they release any undocumented immigrant from detainment, regardless of the immigrant’s criminal status. But by April 3, when the State Senate approved the bill, SB-54 had been watered down so that this measure would apply only to undocumented immigrants who had not been convicted of an unreasonably long list of “serious” crimes – regardless of the time already served or the dates of those crimes.

With pressuring de Leon in mind, our most recent action was a teach-in right outside UCLA’s Moore Hall, where de Leon was invited to speak at the “Moving Forward in Education” symposium, an event hosted by UCLA’s chancellor to discuss how to counter the Trump administration’s repressive policies. The teach-in featured speakers from organizations encountered by the group in the past months, including NDLON, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA), UCLA Chicana/o Studies department, UCLA’s Student Labor Advocacy Project (SLAP), DSA-LA’s Housing and Homelessness committee, our own Sanctuary City Working Group, and other undocumented student activists. Our teach-in, coordinated with a successful disruption by SLAP inside the event, attracted the attention of de Leon himself, who came out and personally offered to speak with the group further on the issue of the state bills.

Going forward, our working group aims to work with our community partners in the ICE Out of LA coalition to continue to find new ways to apply pressure to the politicians to secure truly inclusive sanctuary policies. In doing so, we recognize the need for a solid left coalition of forces to consistently pressure these officials. This effort also requires building deeper connections with workers and immigrants in our local L.A. community. We believe that workers and immigrants must lead the struggle for sanctuary for all. These fights for systemic reform, of course, inevitably force us to other larger conflicts with the capitalist system. The struggle for sanctuary also necessarily links us to the fight against the prison industrial complex and for the de-criminalization of all marginalized communities, especially in Los Angeles, which has the largest standing prison system in the world. In other words, a truly inclusive sanctuary for all is nothing less than a revolutionary demand, one that is impossible without directly confronting capitalism.

DSA-LA’s Sanctuary City Working Group remains committed to continue and expand these fights for sanctuary. The need for sanctuary highlights the violence and injustice of this capitalist system and the extreme measures that it must take in order to enforce borders and capital’s fr­ee movement across the globe. An effective democratic socialist movement must learn to draw the connection between the plight of undocumented immigrants and that of the working class in practice. The Trump administration’s policies, many of which are extensions from the Obama years, work to further eviscerate the international working class and destroy immigrant communities. In a world that continues to be torn by the detrimental effects of imperialist warfare and climate change, the amount of refugees and immigrants will only increase. These conditions necessitate a revolutionary overhaul of our current system, forcing us to understand that only a just and equitable socialist society can provide sanctuary for all.

Promise Li is a member of Los Angeles DSA and an organizer of the Sanctuary City Working Group.

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