Arcata ponders ‘sanctuary city’ status

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA – In measured steps, municipal leaders will consider naming Arcata a sanctuary city in defiance of President Donald Trump’s federal “defunding” threat.

Mayor Susan Ornelas says the president’s warning may not be enforceable. So does Vice-Mayor Sofia Pereira.

In any event, the mayor declares, standing policy will not change whether Arcata becomes a sanctuary city or not.

“It is important to note,” Ornelas said in an email last week, that the city is already on record not to turn people over to law enforcement “just for being illegal aliens. We have a policy only to turn people in if they are committing a crime (drug cartel, prostitution, etc.) and are illegal aliens.”

In a national press interview last week, Trump said, “We give tremendous amounts of money to California – California in many ways is out of control.”

Apparently alluding to the “fast-tracked” state assembly and senate bills in Sacramento aimed at making California the nation’s first sanctuary state, the president warned, “If we have to, we’ll defund.”

He quickly qualified that, however. “I don’t want to defund anybody. I want to give them the money they need to properly operate as a city or a state. If they’re going to have sanctuary cities, we may have to do that [defund]. Certainly that would be a weapon.”

Referring to the pending Democratic bills in Sacramento and to the fact that Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles are already sanctuary cities, Pereira said, “By the time we discuss this issue as a council, we will have different information on where things are with this state legislation. Whatever we decide as a council will take into account what California and other cities are doing.”

Ornelas affirmed, “We are keeping a close eye on what the state is doing.”

City Manager Karen Diemer said the earliest date the council has singled out for discussion is March 15, or perhaps later, in April or May. Any initial discussion will be scheduled in public session, she said.

Pereira has received ample support from her constituents for a sanctuary declaration.

“I’ve been receiving lots of emails and phone calls about this issue. Overwhelmingly our residents are asking us to consider becoming a sanctuary city and they feel it’s important to actually call ourselves a ‘sanctuary city.’ I agree with many that believe a critical mass of cities standing up for their residents is a powerful statement. It’s a powerful statement to our residents, including those [who] are undocumented, that we value you and will fight for you.”

Diemer noted that new analysis of the issue comes out daily. Given Trump’s all-out fight with the judiciary, developments are a moving train. She expects the staff report to the council to include independent assessments by the League of California Cities and various state attorneys general.

“I will include a couple of the more recently adopted ordinances as well as a general discussion about what the ordinances are intended to govern locally,” Diemer said.

Spurring the state’s and the council’s consideration of sanctuary status is the worldwide turmoil provoked by Trump’s 90-day travel hold, issued Jan. 27, on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. His highly contentious executive order, stayed for the time being by the federal courts, suspends all refugee admission for 120 days and bars all Syrian refugees indefinitely.

The president contends that the order is justified on national security grounds, to block terrorists and criminals from infiltrating the United States. He has portrayed the threat as a clear and immediate danger on the scale of the 9/11 attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

Early in his campaign, a truculent candidate Trump said without qualification that he would order a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States.

However, the text of the White House executive order makes no reference either to Muslims or to Islam. Still, the order has touched off militant objections that it violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on congressional establishment of religion and breaches the Fifth Amendment’s constitutional guarantee of due process in prosecutions.

Trump argues that the Immigration and Naturalization law, rooted in the McCarran-Walter bill of 1952 with serial amendments afterward, gives the president sovereign power over who can enter the country.

Further, Trump has expressly linked his immigration stance to sanctuary cities. He took a hardline in an interview Feb. 5 with Fox News that sanctuary cities “breed crime” and “a lot of problems,” which he did not identify. He underscored, “I’m very much opposed to sanctuary cities.”

Ornelas, Pereira and councilmember and former Mayor Paul Pitino categorically reject the president’s position. FBI crime data show exactly the opposite, that immigration helps to deter crime, Ornelas said, citing a Jan. 27 analysis in the Washington Post, It refers to an August 2016 study of roughly 80 jurisdictions that University of California-Riverside and Highline College researchers used to examine how violent and property crime rates changed after sanctuary policies were adopted.  They concluded that “‘a sanctuary policy itself has no statistically meaningful effect on crime.’”

Research of 608 sanctuary counties published last month by a progressive think tank, the Center for American Progress, found lower crime rates than in their nonsanctuary counterparts.

Other studies, according to the Post, indicated that in some jurisdictions, immigrant-friendly policies led crime to decrease.

But the data are correlative, not causal, the newspaper’s report said, and more research is needed to confirm them.

“I disagree with the characterization that undocumented immigrants are a part of a criminal element in our community and that sanctuary cities ‘breed crime’.” Pereira wrote in an email. “These folks are our neighbors and a part of our community. My hope is that becoming a sanctuary city will help to ease concerns about ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids in our community, and reduce any underreporting of crimes that may be fueled by fear of deportation. Making this policy change helps to build trust with the city and our police department.”

Pitino agreed, saying he is ready to proceed with consideration of the sanctuary city initiative March 15. Not everyone on the council agrees, however.

Ironically, Trump’s immigration policy is at complete odds with his promise to create 25 million new jobs. Economists say he would have to more than double legal immigration rates to fill them, as baby boomer employees leave the workforce en masse.

Trump’s immigration order has reenergized the familiar meme “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Locally, Centro del Pueblo, which calls itself a Humboldt grassroots Latino organization, spoke out last week against any ICE presence in Fortuna. Coincidentally, a barrage of retributive ICE raids last week aroused new fears of Trump’s campaign promise in November 2015 to form a “massive deportation force” of additional enforcement agents to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Globally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a Conservative, have spoken out against the travel and refugee order as “divisive and wrong,” in Johnson’s words.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault asserted “Terrorism has no nationality,” but Geert Wilders, leader of the Netherlands’ far right Party of Freedom, urged Trump to expand the number of majority Muslim countries (they total 49 or 50) beyond the seven named in his executive order.

Whatever the ultimate modus vivendi between the executive and judicial branches of government, the lengthening court battle over the restraining order will give the Arcata City Council plenty of material to use in weighing the potential legal impact of declaring the community a sanctuary for immigrants.

The merits of the case will receive further judicial review in the wake of the unanimous Feb. 8 decision 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that upheld the stay on Trump’s 90-day travel crackdown.

The three-judge panel, two men and one woman, pinpointed several infirmities in the president’s case, among them that Trump produced no evidence that anyone from the affected seven countries had conducted a terrorist attack on the United States, or any evidence that any such attack was imminent.

Further, the panel unequivocally disclaimed the president’s argument that the judiciary has no constitutional authority to review his executive order. Justice Department lawyers asserted that the president has “unreviewable authority to suspend the admission of any class of aliens.”

To the contrary, the court held, “There is no precedent to support this disclaimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Reinforcing that assertion, the appeals court added, “It is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action.”

The three-judge panel, appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents, also predicted that Trump’s order was likely to fail because it would violate the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, refugees and people holding visas.

Critics charge that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is “notoriously left-wing” and the most prone to having its decisions overturned, compromising its credibility and standing.


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