Cold as ICE
Salinas considers a resolution reaffirming policy of not arresting people solely because they are here illegally.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
City Councilman Sergio Sanchez wants to send a message to Salinas residents: the City will not help federal authorities round up undocumented immigrants. To this end, Sanchez has asked the council to adopt a “sanctuary city” resolution that would reaffirm Salinas’ unwritten don’t ask, don’t tell policy concerning immigration status.
“It’s important for our immigrant community of all nations to know that this city appreciates their contribution… and we will not spend city resources helping [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] do their job,” Sanchez says.
He won’t have the mayor’s support. Mayor Dennis Donohue opposes the symbolic designation. Donohue says declaring Salinas a sanctuary for illegal immigrants could attract undocumented criminals to the city.
“I think it does send a signal that Salinas may be a safe haven for elements that we don’t want here,” Donohue says.
In September Sanchez asked city staff to research sanctuary cities. The Salinas City Council is slated to discuss the issue this month.
The sanctuary designation would harmonize with the city’s current policy and state law. Under the California Penal Code, peace officers can’t detain someone exclusively for an immigration violation. Deputy Chief Cassie McSorley says the Salinas Police Department doesn’t ask residents about immigration status and doesn’t report crime witnesses, victims or suspects to ICE.
“We don’t care if you are here illegally or legally,” McSorley says. “If you are a witness of a crime and call the police, we are not going to ask you for your papers.”
McSorley says the police department has worked with ICE to arrest violent criminals. In September ICE and Salinas police arrested 26 undocumented gang members as part of a nationwide effort called Operation Community Shield.
Sanchez doesn’t want to stop this type of cooperation with the feds. He says the sanctuary designation would not protect criminals, but rather reassure Salinas’ hard-working, undocumented residents that the city won’t assist “la migra.”
Sanchez acknowledges that the designation won’t stop ICE agents from raiding local ag fields or work sites. “But it reaffirms publicly that this is a current city policy,” he says. Cities such as Watsonville, San Jose and San Francisco have passed similar resolutions.
Donohue, however, says he doesn’t want to butt heads with the feds, especially at a time when the City and County are asking for more money to fight gangs. Last week Donohue and other elected officials lobbied legislators in Washington, D.C. for $1 million for the county’s Gang Task Force, and $350,000 for the Silver Star Gang Prevention and Intervention Program.
A sanctuary resolution would attract “unnecessary attention,” Donohue says. “Why raise our hands and put us in the line of sight for the federal government?” he asks. “I think it’s better to keep our head down and keep moving.”
Donohue, who is a radicchio grower and vice chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, admits the federal immigration system is broken. His industry has pushed for comprehensive immigration reform that would give the country’s undocumented workforce a path to citizenship. “I think we can all agree that Washington has failed,” he says.
Still, Donohue doesn’t want the city to take a formal stand in the immigration debate. “My whole approach is let’s focus on the things that unite the community, not divide it,” he says.