County takes ‘civil rights and diversity’ stance

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Amid calls for something stronger, Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors has approved a “civil rights and diversity” resolution.

Approved at the Aug. 15 supervisors meeting, the resolution declares that the board “encourages and supports local law enforcement agencies, including the Sheriff's Office, to not use staff resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes, except as directed by state and federal laws.”

The resolution promises to carry out the Sheriff’s Office policy that was set forth last March. A quote from then-Sheriff Mike Downey is included to clarify the county’s stance: “Enforcement of immigration laws is not the job of the Sheriff and my office does not and will not conduct proactive or reactive immigration enforcement duties in this community.”

During a lengthy public comment session, several speakers asked supervisors to pass an ordinance, not a resolution, to that effect. They advocated for a sanctuary city ordinance similar to what Arcata and other cities in the country have approved.

The public comment also called attention to national politics and events – and the fear that local illegal immigrants are experiencing. A man who said he’s worked in the community services division of St. Joseph Hospital for about 15 years related how fear of enforcement has affected attendance at a Zumba class.

“They are afraid to come to the class, they were asking me to stay at the door, to make sure that in case someone is coming, to let them know so they can run,” he said. “They live in fear – that’s not healthy.”

But County Sheriff William Honsal said that the only interaction his office has with federal enforcers is through the county jail.

He said that when immigration-related checks are done, it’s only to determine if individuals have prior deportations for being violent felons or are on the Homeland Security watch list.

Honsal said that 16 such individuals have been held for checks and all of them were released without being turned over to federal authorities.

If the county stops communicating in that manner, the feds will do the checks themselves, visiting households and detaining undocumented individuals, Honsal added.

“That does not lend any kind of credibility to the criminal justice system and what we’re trying to do here in Humboldt County,” he said. “And I think if it happens even one time, then no one really will call 911 because the effect is, now the whole family or whoever’s at that house will be gone.”

Honsal added that “if we just turn over those serious and violent felons” – only two of which have been turned over to the feds in the last three years – there is no problem. But if that level of cooperation isn’t done, Honsal believes broader enforcement is likely.

“They haven’t done front line enforcement here in several years, I don’t want to invite that and I will not cooperate with that,” he said. “There is no reason for us to be involved in eroding our community that way.”

Supervisor Estelle Fennell agreed. “I don’t want children to stay out of school, I don’t want victims of sexual assault to feel afraid to come to you,” she told Honsal. “I feel, from having talked with you, that that would not be the case and this is the message we want to send from Humboldt County – you have nothing to fear.”

Supervisors Rex Bohn and Ryan Sundberg also assured people that fears of local immigration sweeps are unfounded and wouldn’t be supported by the county. Bohn said, “Turn off the damned TV, because that’s where the fear is coming from, it’s not coming from Humboldt County.”

Supervisor Mike Wilson acknowledged that “we do have a community that is positive in the way we address these issues” but agreed with those who said stronger action can be taken.

“We do have a lot of historical and current issues that we do need to deal with, in ourselves and the various pockets and groups that we have here,” he said.

Wilson added that “there is a nexus” between events like the Charlottesville white nationalist rally and Rob Arkley, Jr.’s opposition to the transfer of Indian Island to the Wiyot tribe and the death of Humboldt State University student David Josiah Lawson. “It’s all part of that same conversation and this is part of the effort to move us forward,” he said.

He invited the county’s Human Rights Commission – which advanced recommendations leading to the resolution – to also recommend a draft of an ordinance.

Supervisors’ unanimous approval of the resolution included changing the word “citizens” in one sentence to “residents.”



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