A 'Sanctuary' For Illegal Immigrants

Every Sunday, Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Maywood, Calif., is packed to the rafters, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.

Father David Velazquez estimates half his congregation entered the U.S. illegally. The church, he says, is a sanctuary. "It doesn't matter how they speak, what language they speak," Velazquez says. "It doesn't matter if they're documented or undocumented."

He calls Maywood a sanctuary too. The city is 97 percent Latino, with an estimated half of that population here illegally.

The Maywood city council passed a resolution opposing the tough immigration bill before Congress, which would make it a felony to cross the border illegally or to aid anyone who does. City Councilor Felipe Aguirre explains, "We believe there's a higher law, the law of God and the law of human rights that will not permit us to enforce the type of immigration laws in the city."

If Congress passes tough immigration reform, Aguirre says Maywood will defy it.

Aguirre is part of a new majority swept onto the city council on a wave of Latino discontent. It follows complaints that police were targeting immigrants: impounding cars of unlicensed drivers, knowing that illegal immigrants can't get a California license. They're charges police refute, but the community takes as gospel.

"Those that drive without licenses, they are not criminals, they are worker people," says Velazquez.

Just down the freeway in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa, residents want police to crack down on illegal immigration. Maywood wants the opposite -- the city council eliminated the police traffic division, making it tougher to tow the cars of unlicensed drivers.

Maywood police officer Richard Lyons thinks, "What the city council is trying to do is make a softer approach for the community."

It's the wrong approach, says former Maywood Mayor Sam Pena, a son of Mexican immigrants. Pena is now in the minority on the city council, and says, "I think we live in a country that's based on law and order."

Pena says change the laws in Sacramento and Washington, don't defy them. "To say, 'I'm going to pick and choose the laws that I want to follow and not follow,' that's not what I took an oath of office to do," he explains.

Aguirre says he knows Maywood's swimming against the national tide, but, "We cannot have this situation of a large sector of our population living in close to apartheid conditions. We're sitting on a powder keg."

And that, says Father Velazquez, is when sanctuary is needed most.
  • Christine Lagorio

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