‘We Need a Sanctuary Ordinance’: Local Attorney Addresses Humboldt’s Board of Supervisors
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Local attorney Eric Kirk posted this letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors yesterday. With his permission, we repost it here.
This is my letter to the Board of Supervisors regarding tomorrow’s hearing in which the Board will take up the issue of undocumented residents and discuss a resolution supportive of the current Sheriff policy. I don’t oppose the resolution, but I am advocating a more extensive Sanctuary resolution which a group of us will submit to the Board after tomorrow. In the meantime, these are my thoughts. I encourage all Humboldt County residents to contact the Board with your own.
To the Board of Supervisors:
I have reviewed the proposed statement in favor of diversity and I appreciate the spirit behind it and the willingness of each of you to listen to some of the most vulnerable in our community who cannot vote. And although I have not yet met him personally, I am also grateful for the commitment and sincerity of Sheriff William Honsal with regard to the issues facing the large local immigrant communities.
Unfortunately I am not able to attend your meeting of August 15, 2017 and I do not have the time at the present to fully elaborate on what I believe to be at stake for the County, but I wanted to share a few thoughts with you before you pass the resolution. The following thoughts are my own and I do not speak for any other individuals or organizations though I am working with them.
I do not object to anything in the statement and I do not oppose its adoption by the Board of Supervisors. My hope is that it is a beginning rather than an end to the discussion.
I am concerned about the portion of the statement and some of the discussion regarding the encouragement of undocumented residents to work towards legalization of their residence. I am not sure that I could recommend that as an attorney right now due to the political climate and recent ICE actions. Very recently a young man cooperated with ICE authorities to process his transition to legal residence, and he was excited to report to agents that he had received a soccer scholarship at a university. Instead of recognizing his productiveness as a citizen, the agents took it as a pretext to deport him, and for good measure his brother. During this last winter ICE agents waited outside of a church in New York where some immigrants came in order to keep warm as they could not afford the heating cost for their own homes. They were ambushed upon leaving the church, and those who were undocumented were processed for deportation. The same New York Times article quoted one of the agents as saying that the change in administration has “made this job fun again.” In several states ICE agents, or local officers in compliance with voluntary cooperation agreements with ICE, have arrested suspected undocumented persons in front of crying children, one incident taking place near the school where the child was to be dropped off. And at least one allegedly abusive boyfriend of an undocumented woman has made use of the climate by notifying ICE officials of a court date in which she was to appear in order to obtain a restraining order against the boyfriend. She was arrested at the court house.
For decades now Congress has deliberated over immigration reform to address the millions – 13 million by some estimates – of undocumented residents. We can discuss whether it was “unethical” for them to come to the US for a better life for their families, but I can tell you that if I was in such a situation and concluded that even illegal immigration was best for my family I would follow exactly the same course of action. We can discuss the international politics and the history of neo-colonialism which has aggravated if not generated some of the problems in other countries which have driven people to this country. We can discuss the need to enforce even those laws with which we disagree. There is much to be discussed.
But there is also a phrase which has been used often in other local politics contexts. Local activists and leaders have spoken about the difference between government polices and “the realities on the ground.” We cannot deport 13 million people. We can only terrorize them and drive them further underground. We can break up families, bring children to tears, and strut as we tell major papers how much “fun” it is to cause pain. Or we can remain on the sidelines as we watch our neighbors, co-workers, and business people rounded up and hope future generations don’t judge us harshly – that there won’t be historical debates about whether our silence is excusable because of our historical context. Many other communities have take the right stands, and they are facing retribution from federal power as the result.
Right now, Congress is cowed with regard to immigration reform, because thanks in large part to a man who has (or has had) great influence in the current White House administration, former House Representative Eric Cantor was “primaried” for his support of immigration reform. The basis? That such reform would lead to more voters supporting the opposition party. That is why we don’t have reform, and why we do not have legal amnesty for those who would apply for legal residence. Without amnesty, I can not as an attorney recommend that undocumented people take such a course. Under the previous Administration, “Dreamers,” those who were brought into the country by their parents at a young age, were encouraged to come out of the shadows and avail themselves of a process which was promised, but has not come to fruition. Many of them do not identify with their countries of origin – some do not even speak the language. They are Americans, though the law does not currently respect them as such.
The statement as proposed is fine. It is not enough. It is not enough to support the policy of a well-intentioned Sheriff. The County needs a Sanctuary resolution which is not contingent upon the good will of the office holder, but rather a policy which actually backs him up and removes the political pressure from him to cooperate with ICE. I am not calling for a policy of civil disobedience. Obviously the County and the Sheriff must comply with all federal and state laws and no ordinance should place any official in the position of having to choose which law to follow. But we need a sanctuary ordinance which states as policy that until national policy takes a different direction, we cannot as a community in good conscience voluntarily cooperate. That kind of cooperation must be earned by the federal government. And to the degree that local agencies are required to comply with the federal government either through statutes or court orders, we should set protocols for the appropriate conduct in carrying out such duties.
In conjunction with other activists from whom you will hear on this issue, I have been involved in the drafting of such an ordinance. It is a work in progress. Personally, I hope the Board will work with us toward the passage of an ordinance which meets the needs and desires of the County. We do have the option of a ballot initiative, but there is no allowance for give and take in that process. Whatever we put forward become law word for word. I would much rather be a part of a process in which input from the communities and agencies involved is solicited and considered. I am leaving the leadership on the process to other activists, but it is the intention of the coalition to present the draft after tomorrow’s meeting.
Again, thank you for the work you have put into the issue and your consideration.