Immigration, one of the more contentious issues of the day, will be the focus of a Thursday panel discussion hosted in Santa Rosa by the county's Commission on Human Rights.

"We're hoping it gets interesting, and we think it will," said Judy Rice, chairwoman of the commission, which organized the event as part of its Sonoma Counterpoints series.

The wine industry, law enforcement, education, business, the legal community and organized foes of illegal immigration will be represented on the panel.

"We wanted to look at it from a functional point of view," said Rice. "When you're talking about immigration, how does education play into it, how does the economy, how does law enforcement?"

The event comes as a number of immigration-related issues have moved to the fore in public policy debates.

A controversial new federal program ushered in by President Barack Obama now allows immigrants who entered the United States illegally before turning 16 to apply for work permits. An estimated 10,700 North Coast residents are eligible to apply.

Also, activists are clashing with Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas over proposed legislation that would prohibit local police agencies from, in most cases, detaining suspected illegal immigrants for federal immigration holds.

Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Due?s will represent the Sheriff's Office at the event, which is to include a lengthy question-and-answer session.

The forum, which will include simultaneous Spanish interpretation, is billed as being about immigration. But Rice acknowledged that the focus will almost certainly be on specifically unsanctioned immigration.

"Though it is not our intent, probably the discussion is going to hone in on illegal, undocumented immigrants," she said.

Should the evening give rise to passions, panelist Steve Giraud may be a chief lightning rod.

He's the director of the NorCal Border Patrol Auxiliary, a group that organizes efforts to observe and report people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

"I'm not there to force my views on anyone but lend knowledge to the debate," Giraud said. "I'm looking for respect for myself from the audience and the fellow panelists."

The event is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at The Friedman Center, 4676 Mayette Ave. For more information call 565-2693 or email

"It will be interesting to see the various perspectives and perhaps if people have suggestions about what can be done," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission and one of the six panelists.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or