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Sonoma County affirms its support of undocumented immigrants

Sonoma County supervisors Lynda Hopkins, Shirlee Zane and James Gore. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat File)

ELOÍSA RUANO GONZÁLEZ,

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors affirmed its support of undocumented immigrants, unanimously approving Tuesday a resolution that outlines supervisors’ continued commitment to provide services to residents regardless of their immigration status.

Supervisors hoped to put residents at ease after President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders aimed at immigrants. However, they came short of labeling the county a “sanctuary,” a designation that Trump warned could lead to the loss of federal funding for communities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities.

The county serves about 20,000 undocumented immigrants, Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. Not all are direct recipients. Some live in households in which U.S. citizens — most often children — are receiving services, including health care and food assistance, said Zane, the board’s chairwoman.

Families have started to withdraw from programs, though, as a result of fears of deportation, she said.

“These are very tragic stories because they are about children not getting the care they need,” said Zane, who argued that the resolution is “very strong” and not just symbolic.

She previously said the resolution covered “what needs to be said” without the use of the term “sanctuary,” which could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the county.

In addition to confirming its commitment to “vulnerable communities,” the board vowed to educate immigrants about their rights and the services available to them. It directed county staff to explore what services immigrants already have available to them and what are needed. The board also wants an analysis of state Senate Bill 54, state legislation that restricts how law enforcement officers participate in deportations. Staff are expected to come back later this month with an update.

“It’s exciting that we’re moving forward, but we’re also being deliberate in what are our actions, what’s the analysis and what do we need to do,” Supervisor James Gore said.

Like Zane, he raised concerns over the impact on county services if the federal government were to strip funding.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins took exception to the word “sanctuary” becoming a “political hot potato.”

“Our country has always been a sanctuary,” said Hopkins, who applauded the county “for taking concrete steps” to protect undocumented residents.

Liliana Gallelli, a local attorney, said the resolution was a necessary “first step.” She urged supervisors to provide money for immigrants’ legal defense. She said both undocumented and documented immigrants are at risk of deportation under the new administration. While several area attorneys are willing to represent immigrants pro bono, she said money is needed to cover court filing fees and other costs.

Vanessa Robledo, executive director of the nonprofit My American DREAMs, was among several individuals from a collective of nonprofits and legal and religious groups to voice their support at the meeting for the resolution and for SB 54.

She echoed the need for legal defense. Robledo, whose family founded Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma, said immigrants have contributed greatly to the county’s economy and need to be supported.

“There is no wine that could be produced without the hands of these laborers,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com.