Salinas City Council

Salinas City Council.

It took two tries, the city joining a lawsuit, and tense public meetings, but Salinas City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to become a sanctuary city—or at least something close. 

One change from the earlier sanctuary city resolution that failed 3-4 was to instead call it a "welcoming city."

Name change aside, City Councilmember Scott Davis—who initiated the original resolution—said the substance of the new resolution was effectively unchanged. 

"The word 'sanctuary' means a lot to people on either side of the topic," Davis said. "It really doesn’t have a definition. Instead of getting hung up on a title, it’s what’s inside."

The approved resolution, which was brought forward by Councilmember Tony Villegas, affirms that city officials will not and do not investigate peoples' immigration status. 

"No city department, agency, officer, or employee will use any city funds, resources, or personnel to investigate, request, or collect immigration or citizenship information of any individual," the first clause reads. 

(That's on a revision—the first draft proposed Tuesday included an exception: "except as related to a crime," a clause which council struck.)

Several members of the public spoke out in opposition to the resolution, mostly on the basis of the name change leaving it too vague.

"We do not support this resolution," said Christopher Barrera, representing the Salinas chapter of LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens). "It’s vague, it’s not complete, we would like to see something stronger, instead of singing and dancing around the word 'sanctuary.'

"Words do matter."

Manuel Valencia of LULAC said, "I have 20 years of experience working with the Legislature as staff counsel. Titles do matter."

Councilmember Gloria De La Rosa agreed, and voted against the resolution on the basis it was too weak.  

"Santuario—to me, and maybe to others, it means a safe haven," she said. 

Mayor Joe Gunter also dissented, for a different reason. The resolution is purely symbolic, he noted; it will not stop U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from coming to town and conducting raids, as happened earlier this month in Salinas and neighboring cities that are designated as sanctuary cities, including Soledad.

"It has no juice when it comes to Immigration coming to town," Gunter said. "I hope we’re not offering false hope to people."

City Council voted down a similar resolution back in February on the basis that threats by the federal government to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities could mean losing some $10 million a year.

Instead of suing, Salinas signed onto existing federal lawsuits by Santa Clara County and San Francisco; a federal judge ruled in favor of sanctuary cities and counties, though the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking a review of that ruling. 

Meanwhile, Salinas officials are also tracking the California Values Act, SB 54, that would have the effect of making California as a whole a "sanctuary state." That bill was passed by the State Senate and is now in the Assembly.

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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