Santa Rosa unanimously declared itself an “indivisible city” Tuesday in an effort to express its support for undocumented immigrants without using the controversial term “sanctuary,” which some council members worried might give residents a greater sense of protection than the city could offer.
Mayor Chris Coursey said he hoped the novel label would not detract from the council’s goal of sending the clearest possible message to residents that they are valued and supported by their city.
“We have friends, we have neighbors, we have co-workers — we all know people who are in jeopardy because of the intent of the new administration in Washington,” Coursey said. “It’s our intent to protect those people and that’s the bottom line here.”
Some residents hissed and one woman stood up and shouted her frustration that the council would avoid the term “sanctuary.” Many speakers had specifically urged the council to use the term, viewing it the best way to send a defiant message of refusal to cooperate to federal officials.
But Coursey flatly rejected the idea that the label of the resolution mattered, only its contents.
“Whether we call it indivisible, whether we call it friendly, whether we call it Mayberry, whether we call it sanctuary,” Coursey said. “I want to celebrate the diversity of this community and will continue to do that as long as I’m in this seat.”
Council member John Sawyer spoke most eloquently against the use of the term sanctuary, which he called “grandiose.” He said it would give people a misimpression about how safe Santa Rosa could make them, which he argued would be misleading and unfair.
“We are not an embassy. We are not a church. We cannot offer that kind of sanctuary,” Sawyer said.
Vice Mayor Jack Tibbetts said he felt Coursey’s alternative was “a really eloquent term, especially in the times that we live in now.”
After more than four hours of public comment and debate, the formal name of the resolution is “A resolution of the City of Santa Rosa declaring itself an Indivisible City to safeguard the civil rights, safety, and dignity of all Santa Rosa residents.”
A key piece of the resolution says city employees, including police, “shall not enforce federal civil immigration laws and shall not use city monies, resources or personnel to investigate, question, detect, detain or apprehend persons solely on the basis of a possible violation of immigration law.” An effort to add the word “report” to this list was dropped out of concern it might be a “trigger word” that could raise the ire of federal officials.
The decision followed remarks from an overflow crowd of more than 200 people similar in size to the one that packed the chambers last week demanding the city make a statement of some kind in support of undocumented residents, of which there are an estimated 29,000 in Sonoma County.
Teachers who instruct the children of undocumented immigrants, doctors who care for them in health centers, business owners who benefit from their labors and dozens of everyday residents, many whose parents faced persecution, turned out to express support for the strongest possible resolution. They held up signs reading “Sanctuary for all — we will not comply with hate,” and “Build bridges not walls,” “Love Trumps hate” and “Even Voldemort wouldn’t do this.”