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The Need for Sanctuary 

The case for protecting the vulnerable among us

Sanctuary city ordinances will be considered soon by the Arcata (April 5 agenda) and Eureka city councils and efforts are also under way to make Humboldt County a sanctuary county. With the current executive orders limiting immigration and targeting undocumented immigrants with deportation, it is important that we take action to protect those among us who are being threatened.

Although the concepts of "sanctuary" and "sanctuary city" go back more than 1,000 years, the term was first commonly used in the United States during the 1980s when people were fleeing U.S. sponsored, right wing death squads in Central America. Initially, churches stepped forward as "sanctuaries." Then, cities followed, using the same term and offering refuge from immediate deportation to those who had fled war zones and persecution.

Today the term is used to designate policies that limit cooperation between local authorities and federal immigration enforcement agencies.

Sanctuary city ordinances generally include the following regulations:

City resources will not be used to enforce federal immigration law;

City agencies will not share information with federal immigration authorities, nor will federal detainer requests be honored, except with a judicial warrant, or in the case of individuals convicted of serious felony crimes;

City agencies will not provide federal immigration authorities with access to individuals in their custody for questioning solely for immigration enforcement purposes;

City employees will not be deputized by federal immigration authorities;

City resources will not be used to create a federal registry based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability status, religion, ethnicity or national origin;

City agencies will not collect immigration-related information and will ensure nondiscriminatory access to benefits and services;

City agencies will protect the due process rights of persons as to whom federal immigration enforcement requests have been made, including providing those persons with appropriate notice;

City agencies will collect and report data to the public regarding detainer and notification requests from federal immigration authorities, in order to monitor their compliance with applicable laws.

From a law enforcement perspective, being a sanctuary city means that scarce local dollars will not be used to enforce federal immigration laws or to deport community members who may not have all their paperwork in order. If they really must, let the feds do that on their own!

If people are arrested for committing a crime, prosecute them for that crime. There is no need to involve federal authorities.

If people want to sign their kids up for local recreation programs, or for any form of assistance, assure them that the information they provide will only be used for local purposes related to that program.

If an immigrant witnesses a crime or is a victim of one, assure them they can safely give their personal information, without fear of it being passed on to federal authorities.

If there is a local drug raid, don't invite ICE to accompany local law enforcement.

Some who believe that undocumented immigrants should be immediately deported portray them as more likely to commit crimes. In fact, official statistics consistently show that crime rates are lower for immigrants than for native-born American citizens, and high rates of immigration are associated with lowered rates of both violent and property crime.

Opponents of sanctuary cities often say that undocumented immigrants deserve deportation because they have violated federal law, and they question why immigrants don't pursue a legal path to citizenship. Whether an immigrant is undocumented because of crossing the border illegally or overstaying a visa, or being brought here as a child, the path to citizenship is long and difficult and often results in deportation. For job-based immigration, the applicant must have special skills and the employer must file a petition. Unless the immigrant is married to or the next-of-kin of an American citizen, the process of obtaining citizenship involves quotas, long waits (often decades) and uncertain outcomes.

The current administration has threatened to withdraw funding from sanctuary cities but, even if such action is attempted, it is unlikely to survive legal challenges. San Francisco and the states of New York and California are already preparing to fight any federal defunding effort in court and have strong arguments, based on the freedom granted to cities and states under the Tenth Amendment. There are currently more than 200 cities in the U.S. with sanctuary city policies, and many more have joined the effort in the past few months, or are considering doing so.

Locally, we could choose to enact "safe and inclusive" policies and not say "sanctuary city." However, in the current political climate, we should embrace the term and proudly stand up for basic human rights in solidarity with like-minded communities across the nation.

Except for Native Americans, all of us descend from immigrants. Latin American immigrants today suffer the same discrimination that many European immigrants endured in the past. And Muslims today often encounter the same blind hatred that was formerly leveled at Jews and Catholics. Let us keep that bigotry in the past and move on, together, to an inclusive society. Think about the Statue of Liberty. Think about your own heritage. Realize that, as Americans, it is our diversity and our inclusiveness that make us great.

Undocumented immigrants pose no threat to our safety or well-being. Many came here as children. Now, they have their own children, born as American citizens, but the parents may still not have legal status. They are hard working members of our community and the parents of our kids' classmates. Do we really want to deport them and separate them from their children? Instead, we should offer safety and security within our community and a clear path to citizenship.

Arcata and Eureka police protocols already limit sharing of immigration data with federal authorities, but sanctuary city status would send a clear message of safety to immigrant residents and would also make a strong public statement affirming our dedication to human rights in these troubled times. Humboldt County does not have similar protocols and, in fact, under its policy allows deputies to send information to ICE whenever someone is booked into the county jail, no matter how minor the offense.

Senate Bill 504 is also making its way through the California Legislature. It would effectively make California a "sanctuary state." This is an important and positive effort that will hopefully be successful, but it is still important for cities and counties to take independent action to protect the human rights of local immigrants. In these times, we must all stand strong for justice in any way we can.

Please support proposed ordinances that free our cities and county from expending local resources to enforce federal immigration law. Let your council members know that you support becoming a sanctuary city, and let your supervisors know you would like Humboldt to become a sanctuary county.

Dave Meserve is a former Arcata City Council member. If you would like more information or to help with his sanctuary efforts, you can contact him at davemeserve@gmail.com.

Have something you want to get off your chest? Think you can help guide and inform public discourse? Then the North Coast Journal wants to hear from you. Contact us at editor@northcoastjournal.com to pitch your column ideas.

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