AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This week, the city of Escondido north of San Diego became the latest in Southern California to pass a resolution condemning California's sanctuary law. That law aims to protect some immigrants in the country illegally by limiting cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports on what appears to be a growing opposition to California's opposition to the Trump administration.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Nearly a dozen local governments have now voted to oppose California's sanctuary law. Some like Orange County have even joined the Trump administration's legal challenge to the state. Now, this recent wave of opposition started in the small Orange County suburb of Los Alamitos.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) USA, USA, USA.
SIEGLER: Protesters holding signs saying make California great again celebrate after the city council votes to opt out of the state's sanctuary law.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Brave patriots - brave, American patriots.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: America first.
SIEGLER: Two weeks later in a now empty quiet chamber, Los Alamitos Mayor Pro Tem Warren Kusumoto reflects on his decision to draft the ordinance and take a stand against liberal California.
WARREN KUSUMOTO: I don't like the direction that California's in. I mean, there's - we've - as a state, we've squandered away what the greatest generation provided for us.
SIEGLER: He's frustrated with policies on everything from taxes to immigration. Kusumoto is a Republican and is, in his words, the product of immigrants. His grandparents originally moved from Japan to Hawaii.
KUSUMOTO: I believe my grandparents did it the right way. They were able to immigrate, become naturalized eventually and citizens, so why is that not the right way for anybody to come over here as immigrants?
SIEGLER: In some Southern California suburbs, there's mounting frustration that views like Kusumoto's are being crowded out by liberal cities that have staked their claim as being the front lines to the Trump resistance. Kusumoto says Los Alamitos is caught in the middle and is being asked to work under conflicting laws. That's a similar argument espoused by the Orange County undersheriff, Don Barnes.
DON BARNES: When you start to legislate that we cannot cooperate or communicate with another law enforcement partner, that is problematic.
SIEGLER: Last week, the sheriff's office decided to post the release dates of inmates online, they say, to alert federal immigration authorities of potential problems. It was seen as an open defiance to Sacramento.
BARNES: We shouldn't be mixing public safety with the politics.
SIEGLER: Still, it's clear the undercurrent of this backlash being seen in Southern California right now is also political.
GUSTAVO ARELLANO: It's the dying gasp of Orange County's nasty brand of conservatism that's infected the body politic of the United States for far too long.
SIEGLER: Gustavo Arellano is a longtime liberal columnist here. In 2016, Orange County voted Democrat in the presidential election for the first time since 1936, and that was widely attributed to changing demographics. Whites are now in the minority in the O.C. But Arellano says just because it's getting more diverse doesn't necessarily mean it's more democratic.
ARELLANO: Ultimately, the Orange County dream is suburbia, and suburbia turns even the most fresh-off-the-boat person from Mexico or whatever into a rock-ribbed Republican.
SIEGLER: So the national political divide is just as sharp and complicated in Southern California. At heated public hearings, you can see a mix of local, grassroots activists from both sides but also some of the same Trump supporters traveling from meeting to meeting, some from as far away as Phoenix. In Los Alamitos, where the recent backlash began, Warren Kusumoto resents the fact that some are casting his city as some sort of anti-immigrant enclave.
KUSUMOTO: Some will say, hey, well, you're racist. No, that's not true. I'm not, right? I'm maybe anti-illegal immigrant immigration, but not - I don't hate people.
SIEGLER: Los Alamitos leaders aren't sure whether their ordinance will hold up if it's challenged in court, but they say it started a much-needed debate. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Orange County, Calif.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.