Guest Opinion: Is Humboldt willing to protect one of its most vulnerable communities?

(The following letter was sent to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on July 4.)

By Renee Saucedo

I am writing to implore that you pass a Humboldt County “Sanctuary” Ordinance that includes non-collaboration by local law enforcement with federal Immigration enforcement.  This ordinance is necessary to instill trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

President Trump promised the mass deportation of 2-3 million undocumented immigrants and publicly blames this population for the country’s crime rates, under-employment and immoral behaviors.

In February 2017 alone, federal immigration authorities launched a new wave of raids and other actions in several states, sweeping up undocumented residents, people with and without criminal records.

Spanish-speaking news and programs heavily televise anti-immigrant rhetoric, which adds fuel to the immigrant community’s fears that local law enforcement anywhere in the country can potentially assist ICE in identifying and detaining undocumented individuals.   Immigrant communities fear local law enforcement, even in states and local areas where police and sheriffs don’t typically follow the call to assist in the deportation agenda.

For millions, deportation means being forcibly separated from one’s children and family, sometimes indefinitely.  The danger and risks are too huge to assume that it probably won’t happen to them.

As a result, many mothers living in Humboldt County don’t take their children to doctor visits for fear that police will make a traffic stop and report them to ICE.

Others share that they fear taking their children to school and even leaving their homes for fear of becoming entangled with law enforcement due to no fault of their own.  They don’t report crimes or come forward if they witness a crime.

Children and youth, many of them U.S. citizens with undocumented parents, exhibit signs of distress and anxiety because their parents might be deported.

Seventy percent of undocumented immigrants and 44 percent of Latinos are less likely to report crime to the police because they fear that police would enforce immigration laws.

Individuals who perpetrate domestic violence, trafficking and other forms of violence against immigrants often instill fear of law enforcement to control their victims.

And since undocumented immigrants commonly live in households where at least one member has legal status, U.S. citizens and lawful residents also fear that contacting the police will result in the arrest of a family member.

It has been insufficient to simply rely on the argument: “Locally, we don’t help ICE.  Nobody should be afraid.”

Law enforcement depends on community trust to effectively maintain public safety and combat crime.

For this reason, more than 600 cities and counties across the nation, including Monterey, Santa Clara, San Diego and Arcata, have decided to institute legally allowable measures to curb collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement.

The California legislature is currently considering legislation that would limit collaboration with ICE in the state (SB 54 – De Leon).

Many local leaders, including the Eureka and Arcata Police chiefs and Humboldt Sheriff, recognize that sanctuary policies are vital to preserving police-community relations and ensuring that residents feel safe reporting crimes and accessing basic government services.

Such a policy wouldn’t serve as protection for undocumented criminals because existing laws require local municipalities to collaborate with ICE in the case of serious crimes.

And having a “Sanctuary” law in the county creates a vague and uncertain risk that some federal funds could one day be withheld.  For example, even in “Sanctuary” jurisdictions, officials send federal immigration agencies the fingerprints of any person – including an immigrant – booked into a prison or jail; the federal government may use that information to identify noncitizens for deportation.

President Trump has lately threatened to de-fund “Sanctuary” jurisdictions. But a federal court in San Francisco recently  ruled in two cases that the president’s threats were unconstitutional, and stopped the government from carrying them out anywhere in the country.  (County of Santa Clara v. Donald Trump, U.S. District Court, California, 17-cv-00574-WHO).

The House of Representatives then introduced HR 3003, which would essentially threaten certain federal funding to “sanctuary” jurisdictions.But research shows that, even if it passes, it faces serious legal challenges, and the legal process could take a long time.

In the meantime, Humboldt County could follow the lead of other cities and counties to do everything in its power in this moment to ensure full trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and community members.

Minimally, Humboldt County should examine how much federal funding it could potentially lose. What is the likelihood of losing funding? Could the “Sanctuary” policy include a clause that would allow the Board of Supervisors to modify it if circumstances change?

Minimally, the resolution considered by the Board of Supervisors this summer should contain language which mirrors the language of the Sheriff’s current policy.

The Resolution should then be converted into an ordinance so that its language becomes enforceable.  This way, the entire county, not only certain departments, takes responsibility for ensuring compliance.

Arguments exist on both sides of this issue. But the potential benefits of having a “Sanctuary” policy in our county far outweigh the potential risks.  In our county, the vast majority of undocumented residents lead productive lives and contribute much more to our society than what they receive.  They sustain the dairy, bulb, hospitality and other industries.  Everyone deserves to live here in peace, not in terror that they could be separated from their loved ones at any moment.

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ decision really boils down to this: Is Humboldt County willing to take what is now a small risk in order to protect and serve one of its most vulnerable communities?  Do you care enough about us to take this step?

Renee Saucedo is a member of the  Steering Committee for Centro del Pueblo. She lives in Eureka.


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