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.”
“Every child has the right to learn without anxiety, and to learn without fear,” said local high school teacher Eva Gallagher.
Mattie Bosch owns a landscaping company and said she owes everything she has to her workers.
“It takes courage, but no one is safe unless we’re all safe,” she said.
Victoria Yañez, who described herself as Native American-Mexican, said she grew up in the fields, quipping “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.”
She said she was frustrated hearing people talk about how undocumented workers need to immigrate legally when the system is set up to make it nearly impossible to do so.
“Why do we keep pretending that we don’t know that our economy is based on the back and blood of these people?” she said.
One of the evening’s most poignant moments was when 5-year-old Frances Garcia sang “I love you, please say you love me, too” to the council. Her mother, Irma Garcia, said they came to this country to make money to support her parents, and had come to love it.
A presentation by city staff explained that about 5 percent of the city’s $461 million budget comes from federal funds, or $25 million, most of it in the form of housing assistance.
How much of that could be threatened by President Donald Trump’s executive order suggesting federal funds could be cut off for communities that “willfully refuse” to cooperate with immigration agents is not known.
Attorney Linda Ross, however, laid out in great detail that there are likely to be numerous arguments made, and likely would be made by cities like San Francisco, that such a withholding of federal funds was unconstitutional.
A large part of the meeting involved wordsmithing the resolution. Council members removed the word “Muslim” from a line about the city being a safe place for immigrants, broadening it include all religious groups.
Numerous other amendments were suggested, including one Councilwoman Julie Combs said sought to broaden language beyond immigrants to make clear city woundn’t cooperate with discriminatory federal efforts against other groups, either, citing a concerns about nonimmigrants being rounded up, such as happened with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
But many of her additions were rejected by colleagues who worried about the resolution becoming so broad as to be watered down.
The council needed to suspend its regular notice rules — which normally require nine-days notice before the council considers most matters – to take up the issue with only a week’s notice after finding there were “exceptional circumstances.”
“If there was ever an exceptional time, of exceptional events, it is now,” Coursey said.
The council also agreed to have Coursey write a letter to the state legislature in support efforts consistent with the city’s resolution, such as Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act.
The council also pushed off to another date whether to take a closer look at its policing policies relative to immigration status, including any agreements with the Sonoma County Jail.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional directives issued by the council after its resolution vote.