Sonoma County supervisors moved Tuesday to further strengthen their support for the area’s immigrant communities, signing off on a series of steps aimed at protecting the rights of undocumented residents and others as President Donald Trump’s administration seeks to aggressively ramp up deportations.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support proposed California legislation that would impose additional restrictions on local officials’ role in immigration enforcement. The board also agreed to extend a county program that provides legal support for children facing deportation and put in motion a monthslong initiative to ensure the county services used by immigrants are as effective as possible.
In taking action, supervisors again sought to respond to widespread fear among immigrants about Trump’s efforts to deport more of those in the country illegally and build a wall along the Mexican border. The vote came the same day the Department of Homeland Security announced policy changes to greatly toughen enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, expanding the number of immigrants considered priorities for deportation and beginning to hire thousands of new enforcement agents.
Supervisors have not formally declared the area a sanctuary county, shying away from embracing a politically charged term that could trigger massive funding cuts under a recent executive order from Trump. Instead, supervisors have focused on how to affirm support for immigrants and promote programs within their control.
“Symbolic steps are often comforting, but I think that what we really need to do right now is take concrete steps to take action to support those that in our community are absolutely feeling under siege — understandably so,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the board’s chairwoman.
Two weeks ago, supervisors approved a resolution stating their commitment to serving all county residents regardless of immigration status. At the time, supervisors also directed staff members to return with an analysis of the proposed state legislation and other measures the county could take to defend immigrants.
The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 54, would generally prohibit law enforcement officers from complying with requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to be notified when certain inmates are being released. The bill also would ban use of state or local funds for immigration enforcement, among other measures.
Supervisors agreed to support a letter to the bill’s author, state Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, citing strong support for the legislation and calling it “a major step toward increasing protections and access to services for immigrant communities.”
But the letter also requests de León’s bill be amended to let law enforcement officers comply with ICE notification requests regarding “serious or violent crimes.” The letter characterizes such notifications as necessary for public safety.
Additionally, supervisors voted to extend for another two years a program through which county employees provide legal representation for immigrant children facing deportation.
The children — most of whom are fleeing violence in their home countries — often have the legal basis to remain in the country, but 90 percent of them would be deported without an attorney, according to county staff. Because it was initially approved as a two-year pilot project in 2014, the county’s program has secured legal status for four children, officials said.
Under the third immigration-related step Tuesday, staff members will conduct a review of county programs to identify potential barriers to services, launch a centralized information hub and conduct community workshops. Staff members plan to return in August with proposals for additional action to safeguard immigrants’ rights and improve access to services.