Sonoma County supervisors and Santa Rosa City Council members are preparing to make their strongest statements yet Tuesday in support of undocumented residents in an effort to calm fears stoked by President Donald Trump’s controversial executive orders on immigration.
They appear poised to do so, however, without using the politically charged term “sanctuary,” a designation without a clear definition that Trump has said could lead to the loss of federal funding for communities that “willfully refuse” to cooperate with immigration agents.
“Once we use the word ‘sanctuary,’ it means a lot of things to a lot of people, and then it becomes an issue of the current administration’s threat to remove our federal funding,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said.
Santa Rosa is also preparing to discuss a resolution Tuesday that reads a lot like a sanctuary resolution without ever using the word, calling it instead a resolution that “Safeguard the Civil Rights, Safety and Dignity of All Santa Rosa Residents.”
Mayor Chris Coursey said the draft is merely a starting point for a discussion, and he’s more interested in the policies the city enacts and the impact they have on residents than labels. He asked staff also to look into whether the city could use other terms like “welcoming city” or “noncooperative city.”
“I’m not sure how important the word ‘sanctuary’ is,” Coursey said. “Saying you are a sanctuary is something different than having policies that actually make you a sanctuary city.”
What is certain is that the elected leaders of the two largest local government agencies on the North Coast are choosing their words carefully — and to date appear hesitant to join the growing ranks of cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York, whose leaders are embracing the sanctuary term as an act of open defiance to Trump’s immigration crackdown.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is considering a resolution that cites “a sense of uncertainty and fear” in Sonoma County due in part to Trump’s recent executive orders and declares the county “respects, upholds and values” equality in protection and treatment for all residents regardless of their immigration status.
The resolution further seeks to assure “vulnerable communities” that they are supported by county officials who will not stand for “acts of hate, discrimination, bullying or harassment.”
If passed, the resolution would relay a commitment from supervisors to provide all county residents, no matter their immigration status, with the same “essential services.” And it would state the county’s determination to act in ways that “ensure the family unity, community security, dignity and due process” of all residents.
At the same time, the board is considering an order directing county staff to evaluate a range of immigration-related issues and actions. They include a review of Senate Bill 54, state legislation that restricts how law enforcement officers participate in deportations. Staff would also evaluate a potential summit on immigration issues, assess the county’s ability to improve immigrants’ legal defenses and identify how the county can better spread information about the rights of undocumented immigrants and the services available to them.
Additionally, the order would have staff suggest other actions or programs that could keep immigrant communities safe.
But Zane, the board’s chair, said using the word “sanctuary” could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the county, adding that the resolution says “what needs to be said” without using the term.