ARCATA, Calif., April 21 (UPI) -- A contractor and city councilman in the Northern California town of Arcata Monday defended his community's ordinance that turns its back on the controversial anti-terrorism Patriot Act.
In an interview with Fox News, David Meserve denied his small coastal community 300 miles north of San Francisco was throwing up obstacles to law enforcement but rather had legitimate concerns about the constitutionality of the act that passed in the wake of Sept. 11.
"We're not providing any source of sanctuary for terrorists," said Meserve, whose town of around 16,000 souls became the first municipality in the nation to take a formal stance against the act. "We don't do illegal searches and seizures and we don't do anything else that isn't constitutional."
Critics argue that the Patriot Act was passed without adequate public debate and goes too far in giving investigators the tools they feel they need to ferret out stealthy terrorists whom they believe are well versed in melting into the background.
Nancy Talanian, co-director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Florence, Mass., told the Washington Post that although federal law trumps local statutes, municipal governments could still refuse to get involved in federal matters.
"In the case of the Patriot Act, the federal government can't really tell municipalities that you have to do the work that the INS or the FBI wants you to do," she said. "The city can say, 'No, I'm sorry. We hire our police to protect our citizens and we don't want our citizens pulled aside and thrown in jail without probable cause.'"
Police in Southern California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, generally do not arrest illegal aliens solely on their immigration status. Officials in those cities cite the costs in terms of man-hours and detention, and because it causes friction in minority neighborhoods.
Nearly 90 communities have passed resolutions against the Patriot Act, and Hawaii has a measure chastising it presently stalled in the Legislature
"The Patriot Act defines 'domestic terrorism' so broadly as to potentially apply to certain acts of civil disobedience by lawful advocacy groups, which may be labeled as terrorist organizations and subjected to invasive surveillance, signal and electronic intelligence gathering, harassment, and criminal penalties for protected political advocacy," the Hawaiian resolution says in part.
The resolutions are generally symbolic, although Arcata's ordinance, which passed on a 4-1 vote last month and takes effect in May, instructs senior city managers to not get involved with any federal operations that invoke the Patriot Act.
"We thought we would take it a step further and ask our management not to cooperate," Meserve said, adding that examples of such cooperation would include having city police take part in raids or the use of city records -- such as water bills -- as a means of tracking down names and addresses of suspected terrorists.
Meserve told Fox that the city would continue to assist the feds in investigations into more traditional types of crimes.
(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)