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Sonoma County supervisors signal support for immigrants during town hall

Four Sonoma County supervisors indicated they would advocate for federal immigration reform during a virtual meeting Wednesday evening hosted by local undocumented workers and nonprofit leaders.

Almost 150 people attended the 5 p.m. meeting, which included a conversation about a federal budget proposal that would fund a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants.

Nearly every Sonoma County supervisor, with the exception of Supervisor James Gore, attended the virtual gathering.

The large turnout of county leaders was significant, Supervisor Chris Coursey said, adding that at least some of the issues broached during Wednesday’s town hall were set to be discussed by the county board during a public meeting in coming weeks.

“It’s not everything you’re asking for tonight, but it’s a start,” Coursey said, prompting nods from Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins and Supervisor Susan Gorin. “I feel confident in saying this is not the end of the conversation around these issues.”

Wednesday’s town hall took place as congressional lawmakers work to fine tune the details of a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would earmark $107 billion to create a legal path to citizenship for qualified immigrants, boost border security and invest in violence intervention programs.

The urgency of the moment was one that could not be ignored, said Socorro Diaz, a member of ALMAS, the Graton Day Labor Center’s domestic worker group, who also served as the town hall’s moderator.

“We perform important work everyday in order to serve and contribute to our community and even then, they have not been willing to give us what we deserve,” Diaz said. “This is the moment.”

Both Hopkins and Supervisor David Rabbitt commended the group for being clear about what it wants, which included a request that county supervisors support a list of farmworker protections crafted by the nonprofit advocacy group North Bay Jobs with Justice.

The five proposed items are intended to boost workplace safety and support for agricultural workers during wildfires. The protections include providing farmworkers with access to clean bathrooms and fresh water, as well as hazard pay and disaster insurance should they lose out on wages because of a wildfire.

Speakers also asked county leaders to consider additional measures to safeguard Sonoma County’s undocumented community during disasters, such as doing more outreach regarding the county’s evacuation zones.

“The county and the sheriff need to put more effort in creating workshops on how to read evacuation maps because not knowing (how to) creates a lot of doubt in an emergency,” said Daysi Carreno, a coordinator for the North Bay Organizing Project’s Immigrant Defense Task Force.

The group was created after the 2017 Tubbs fire to draw attention to the lack of fire alerts, services and relief for the area’s Spanish-speaking and undocumented communities.

Supervisor’s support for a state bill that would further restrict California jail and prison’s ability to cooperation with immigration officials and bar courts from considering immigration status when determining eligibility for diversion or rehabilitation programs was also among the group’s requests.

The group also asked the board to pass a resolution backing Senate Bill 321, which would require the state’s workplace safety division to fold in domestic service workers and their employers under their purview.

Teresa Gomez, a Windsor resident who works as a house cleaner and as an agricultural worker, said she’s experience workplace exploitation in the past. At the time, she didn’t feel like she could report those instances because she was undocumented, she said.

In recent years, her work as a house cleaner has involved removing ash, dirt and mud from homes impacted by local wildfires and floods.

“There’s a lot of people like me who deserve a life of dignity in this country,” Gomez said.

The topics brought up during Wednesday’s meeting struck a personal chord for Rabbitt, as both of his parents immigrated to the U.S. to forge a better life for themselves and their family, he said.

“I’m a result of that, and it’s always been very important to me … those values of hard work and wanting to give the future generations a better opportunity.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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