Some 30 community members joined artist Maria de Los Angeles on a march Thursday from Roseland to Santa Rosa City Hall, demanding the city establish itself as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
The demonstrators gathered at the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center on Sebastopol Road and marched peacefully for more than a mile, some carrying suitcases, wearing red tape and holding signs with calls for Santa Rosa to become a sanctuary city, and messages such as “Trump doesn’t represent California” and “we refuse to inaugurate hate.”
While she grew up in Santa Rosa, de Los Angeles lives in New York City now but said she felt compelled to help organize the Thursday demonstration to spur the kind of discourse about defending undocumented immigrants she has seen elsewhere.
“I found that Santa Rosa was not having that conversation — not as a collective, as a community, as an open conversation,” said de Los Angeles, an undocumented immigrant. “We have to have that, otherwise we are continuing this apathetic oppression.”
A sanctuary city has no formal legal definition, but generally entails a jurisdiction that decides not to help the federal government deport residents for violating the nation’s immigration laws. The label is thought to apply to more than 200 cities around the country, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles and New York.
During the election, Trump vowed to cut federal funding from such places, a position that could precipitate a major political battle after he takes office in January.
In the wake of his election, some public officials have already reaffirmed their commitments to protect undocumented immigrants — San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, for example, recently passed a resolution that said, in part, the city would remain a sanctuary “no matter the threats” from Trump.
Prior to Thursday’s demonstration, de Los Angeles asked community members to email City Council members imploring them to publicly discuss making Santa Rosa a sanctuary city.
Former mayor John Sawyer, who sits on the council, said after the November election he thought it would be premature for Santa Rosa to become a sanctuary city.
Whether activists can make that conversation happen remains to be seen, but their march Thursday did get the attention of at least one local official: newly elected City Councilman and vice mayor Jack Tibbetts, who said he showed up to speak with demonstrators and listen to their concerns.
“I really want to hear what this community is feeling right now and understand the level of fear we have in Santa Rosa,” he said.
Tibbetts said he was “definitely not opposed” to becoming a sanctuary city but stopped short of endorsing the policy. The City Council would have to discuss it and examine what impact Santa Rosa would face if Trump follows through with his promise to pull funding, among other factors, he said.
Thursday’s march was full of symbolism.
The suitcases carried by many demonstrators, for example, were meant to help visualize the act of forcing people from their homes when they are deported, said organizer Enrique Yarce, an activist and student at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Yarce, who is also undocumented, said Santa Rosa needs to take action before Trump assumes office because the president-elect has shown no signs he will be friendlier toward immigrants than he was on the campaign trial.