Supervisors take stand on immigration

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – As immigration enforcement intensifies on the federal level, the county’s Board of Supervisors is considering a resolution to ensure that all residents will get essential services and won’t be subjected to local enforcement actions, regardless of their immigration status.

A “civil rights and diversity resolution” that focuses on how illegal immigrants will be treated locally was considered by supervisors at their April 25 meeting.

Advanced by the county’s Human Rights Commission at the direction of supervisors, the draft resolution affirms the county’s commitment to equal rights and supports the Sheriff’s Office’s policy on immigration enforcement.

Sheriff Mike Downey has released a statement on the policy and the crux of it is quoted in the draft resolution: “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.”

Jim Glover, the Human Rights Commission’s chair, said the resolution “represents a principled statement of what kind of county we want to be.”

In addition to assuring illegal immigrants that they won’t be investigated by local police, the resolution states that “the county assures its many diverse communities, including the most vulnerable, that the county supports them, will strive to maintain and improve their quality of life, and will not tolerate acts of hate discrimination, bullying, or harassment.”

The resolution gained strong support during a public comment session but Ferndale resident Rachel Harrison – prefacing her remarks by saying, “I am in no way a racist” – encouraged legal immigration.

“I am asking everyone who wants to come to this country to become a citizen,” she said, asking the supervisors, “What does your flag mean to you?”

Renee Saucedo, a steering committee member of the Centro del Pueblo immigrant assistance group, said that “absolute terror caused by the presence of (U.S.) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police” in the region and nationwide is being expressed at the group’s events and through other communications.

“It’s gotten so bad that children are seeing therapists because they are fearful that they will not see their parents at home when they arrive from school,” she continued. “Parents call us asking if it is safe to take their children to school or to health care centers.”

Saucedo said the situation also includes “racially-motivated bullying in our schools” and she described the resolution as “an excellent first step,” with a sanctuary declaration being ultimately necessary.

Ten other speakers also supported the resolution’s intent.

“The threat is real,” said Supervisor Rex Bohn. He added that he’s had conversations with a school counselor in his district who is “dealing with the fears of the children going to medical, going to school.”

He said that the previous week, he was at a meeting of all the county’s police chiefs, its new school superintendent and two ICE officials. “They do come here but they’re not really forthcoming with working with local police forces, from what I got out of the conversation,” he continued.

Bohn added that although “the kids have a genuine fear,” he questioned “how much of it is actual in Humboldt County” and said, “I don’t think we’re going to see anything.”

Supervisor Estelle Fennell had said that the county needs to back up Downey’s policy and also “encourage people to know their rights and if they don’t want to become citizens, to become legal – not to hide, not to be afraid but to do the right thing.”

Fennell said the draft resolution can be modified accordingly. “We’re talking about the legal status of people living in this country and how they’re dealt with in this county – and whether or not this county jumps in on this federal change,” she said.

Board Chair Virginia Bass, who sponsored the resolution agenda item, suggested that illegal immigration is more present than some might assume.

“I’ve talked to people who work at hospitals, restaurants, service industries and business owners – I don’t know if anyone ever thinks about business owners, a lot of them here, they’re not documented,” she said. “You work alongside these folks.”

Supervisors unanimously voted to form an ad hoc board committee composed of Fennell and Supervisor Mike Wilson, which will make recommendations for a final resolution no later than Aug. 31.

Before the vote, Fennell said that the upshot of the discussion is that “this county is not about to enter into any kind of federal enforcement of anything” and added, “I think it behooves us to not be dramatic and feed the fear but to make people feel comforted even if we don’t have a resolution.”


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