The Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to sign on to a "friend of the court" brief supporting lawsuits by Santa Clara County and San Francisco that challenge the constitutionality of a Jan. 25 executive order by President Donald Trump.
That executive order would withhold federal funds from any jurisdiction that the U.S. attorney general decides has policies that fit the criteria of a "sanctuary jurisdiction," defined as those that "willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States."
City Attorney Bill McClure and Councilman Ray Mueller said they have given feedback to the firm about the brief.
One point they made clear to the firm, Mr. Mueller said, is that Menlo Park not be characterized as a "sanctuary city" since the city has made no decision about that. The council is scheduled to discuss that issue April 4.
The text of the brief and the number of jurisdictions signing it will not be available until the document is filed, likely on the March 22 deadline.
If the courts do not intervene, Mr. Mueller said, Santa Clara County could lose up to $1.7 billion in federal funding, or about one-fourth to one-third of its total budget, much of which goes to infrastructure and social services. Menlo Park, as a neighbor to Santa Clara County, would be adversely affected by the withholding of such funds, he said, even if Menlo Park does not declare itself a "sanctuary city."
Councilman Rich Cline said the city has effectively communicated political support for other lawsuits in the past via "friend of the court" briefs and that he believed it was time to "signal to some people we want to create a safe haven of some sort for our residents," he said. "I don't think we should make a habit of standing on the sidelines on issues like this."
Councilman Peter Ohtaki was wary of signing onto a document that he hasn't read yet, and likely won't get a chance to read before it is filed with the court, but ultimately supported it. Mr. McClure said that council members don't usually see briefs before they are filed, and that the main legal arguments of the case are already in the lawsuits.
Councilwomen Kirsten Keith and Catherine Carlton called into the meeting from Washington, D.C., and both expressed support for joining the brief.
During a public comment period, eight Menlo Park residents spoke in favor of the city joining the brief. Among them were attorney Gail Slocum, a former Menlo Park council member, who last week participated in a meeting of People Power, an ACLU-affiliated program encouraging people across the U.S. to pressure their local governments to pass nine ordinances that offer protections to residents.
"Whether or not a city becomes a sanctuary city, this (the executive order) is an attempt to infringe on cities' and counties' right of self-determination," Ms. Slocum said. "I believe it is unconstitutional."
Sammy Katta, a Menlo Park resident who is pursuing a doctoral degree in neuroscience at Stanford, said it was her first time attending a Menlo Park council meeting, but said she felt compelled to attend after going to a People Power meeting with Ms. Slocum. She said she grew up in San Mateo County and knows undocumented people who could be affected by President Trump's executive order.
Jen Mazzon, who is leading an effort by some Menlo Park residents to pass a "sanctuary city" ordinance, argued that it is not the job of cities to enforce immigration laws. That's a federal responsibility, she said, and withholding funds from cities that don't do so is unconstitutional.
She argued that communities do better when undocumented immigrants are able to report crime, seek help from the police, attend school or visit the doctor without fear of being questioned about their immigration status.
Menlo Park resident Adina Levin, who often advocates for Caltrain and transit infrastructure, echoed support for Menlo Park joining the amicus brief. She said that her father was a refugee from the Holocaust who fled Poland before the Nazis arrived. At the time, she said, there was an environment in which people were threatened to inform on their neighbors.
"I feel a personal responsibility to not be complicit in anything that looks like that," she said.