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Sonoma agrees to take a stand in support of immigrants

Sonoma on Wednesday moved to join the growing list of communities expressing support for undocumented immigrants and assuring them that police will not assist with deportations.

The Sonoma City Council agreed to begin fine-tuning a resolution to affirm the city’s commitment to diversity and safeguarding civil rights, safety and dignity of all residents, based on community values and “the history of immigrant contributions.”

The wording may change by the time a council subcommittee brings it back for consideration in two weeks, but the council, buoyed by support from a large crowd, unanimously agreed on the need to take a stand to back the mostly Latino immigrant community.

“It’s important for a community to establish when they have shared values,” said Mayor Rachel Hundley, adding that the issue affects the health, well-being and welfare of residents.

“The issue of discrimination needs to be talked about, and acknowledge it’s damaging to communities,” she told a crowd of more than 125 people that overflowed the community meeting room.

Speakers told the council that much of the Sonoma economy relies on immigrants, including the wine industry, hotels, restaurants, construction and other sectors.

“Protect the hardworking immigrants and residents of our community,” said Loretta Carr, a Sonoma teacher.

Others said immigrants are more than just a labor force.

“They’re our neighbors, our friends, who our children go to school with,” said Celeste Winders, one of 34 people who addressed the City Council.

Other communities have taken similar actions to express support for all their residents regardless of immigration status, especially as the Trump administration signals it intends to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. This week, the administration announced any immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged with or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will be an enforcement priority.

Speakers at the Sonoma Council meeting described a climate of fear and anxiety that has spread through the Latino community, including some who are afraid to leave their homes.

But others said Latinos have faced periodic waves of discrimination and deportations over the past 80 years.

Sonoma, which contracts with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department to provide law enforcement, has a policy of “equal service” to the public regardless of immigration status.

The Police Department’s policy, in compliance with California’s TRUST Act, is to not engage in federal immigration enforcement, arrest or detain any person solely for immigration status violations.

“We are not allowed to ask people about their immigration status,” Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett said of the existing policy.

The department does work collaboratively with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the apprehension of serious or violent criminals.

However as a condition of collaboration, the police department says it requires ICE to refrain from arresting or taking custody of someone based solely on immigration status and low-level or minor traffic violations.

On Tuesday, Sebastopol passed a resolution expressing support for all immigrants while assuring them that the police department will not become part of a deportation force.

The Sebastopol City Council voted 4-0, Councilman Michael Carnacchi abstaining, to reaffirm its support of current police department policy not to engage in federal immigration enforcement.

“Sebastopol prides itself on being welcoming to people from all backgrounds, cultures, religions, orientations, abilities, and viewpoints, and encouraging their active participation in matters that affect us all,” Mayor Una Glass said in a statement.

“We don’t want to create an environment where a person is reluctant to contact law enforcement for help.”

Carnacchi said he abstained because he is concerned Sebastopol will be placed among so-called “sanctuary” cities and targeted for immigration enforcement.

The Sebastopol City Council also voted 4-1 to support SB 54, the California Values Act, a bill pending before the California State Senate.

The bill “protects the safety and well-being of all Californians by ensuring that state and local resources are not used to fuel mass deportations, separate families, or divide Californians on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, or national or ethnic origins.”

Carnacchi voted against it because he said he has not seen a version of the final bill.

A number of colleges and school districts throughout the state - including Santa Rosa Junior College and Santa Rosa City Schools - have taken stances to support their undocumented students.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors two weeks ago approved a resolution stating their commitment to serving all county residents regardless of immigration status.

This week the board agreed to extend a county program that provides legal support for children facing deportation and put in motion an initiative to ensure the county services used by immigrants are as effective as possible.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com

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