Petaluma became the latest North Coast jurisdiction to show solidarity with its immigrant community as the City Council on Monday night unanimously passed a resolution affirming the city’s commitment to shield undocumented residents from the deportation policies of the federal government.
After a lengthy discussion in a packed council chambers, the board adopted the so-called “It Won’t Happen Here” declaration, which states the city’s refusal to work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on actions leading to the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
More than three dozen speakers, many of them immigrants and children of immigrants, addressed the council and the roughly 300 audience members that spilled into a hallway. Many in the audience held signs reading “No human is illegal,” and “We are better than this.”
Christina Hernandez told the council her family brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was young in search of a better life. She said since President Donald Trump’s executive orders detailing immigration enforcement, she has been afraid her family will be deported.
“I really want my family to stay together,” she said through tears. “I don’t want my family to be separated.”
The city’s resolution stopped short of declaring Petaluma a so-called “sanctuary city,” a politically-charged term that has drawn the ire of proponents of tougher immigration laws. President Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities.
The resolution states Petaluma Police officers will not hand over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities, unless they have been detained for certain serious offenses listed in the 2014 California Trust Act, such as rape and robbery.
“We are upholding our constitutional obligation,” said Councilman Dave King, one of the authors of the resolution. “We are not allowing our police force to discriminate against certain protected categories.”
Similar resolutions have been passed by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, and the city councils of Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Sebastopol. A resolution is forthcoming in Sonoma, and a bill has been put forward in the state Senate to declare California a “sanctuary state.”
Petaluma City Councilwoman Teresa Barrett acknowledged the fear many immigrants in the city have said they are experiencing. She said it is the responsibility of leaders to ease those concerns.
“This is a time when fear is spread all over,” she said. “If we can come together as a community and alleviate some of that fear so children can sleep at night, I think that is incumbent upon us. This is an opportunity for all of us to come together and act as one.”
Three speakers asked the council to vote against the resolution. John Cheney spoke of anecdotal instances of undocumented immigrants committing crimes.
“We have got a few criminals among us,” he said. “To hand-tie our police is just wrong. This needs to change. No sanctuary city.”
The overwhelming majority of audience members, however, supported the resolution. Rebeca Martinez-Chavez, a teacher at Casa Grande High School, told the council that since the November election she has noticed a changed demeanor in many of her students, especially those from immigrant families who have become sullen and worried.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “Their attention is not on their schoolwork. Their attention is focused on whether their families will remain intact or be separated. Many are afraid that upon their return from school their parents won’t be there to greet them.”
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