The Arcata City Council last night threw its support behind a California bill that would bar the use of state and local law enforcement resources for federal immigration enforcement, but stopped short of taking on the designation of “sanctuary city” — for now.
After hearing from a steady stream of speakers overwhelmingly in favor of the stance, the board split 2-2 — with councilmembers Paul Pitino and Sofia Pereira in favor and Mayor Susan Ornelas and Councilmember Michael Winkler voicing concerns. The council agreed to bring back the item when a replacement for Mark Wheetley — who recently stepped down to become Fortuna’s city manager — was seated to break the tie.
The sanctuary city issue is now likely to be a hot topic when the seven candidates vying to fill the remainder of Wheetley’s term are interviewed next week. An appointment is expected by the end of the month.
The council did, however, pass a resolution affirming Arcata’s commitment to “safeguarding the civil rights, safety and dignity of all city residents” and what City Manager Karen Diemer described as the police department’s long-standing policy not to engage in federal immigration enforcement.
“For decades now our Arcata Police Department has recognized the public safety value in cooperating with all of residents, documented and undocumented,” she said, adding that studies show crime drops when immigrant communities feel comfortable reaching out to law enforcement.
Police Chief Tom Chapman reiterated Diemer’s comments.
“The stance of the Arcata Police Department, our policy, is that our first responsibility is to the community as a whole,” he said, noting that officers are instructed not to inquire about immigration status.
The city will be sending a letter of support for the so-called “sanctuary state” bill, or Senate Bill 54, which is headed to the Assembly after being approved by the Senate this week.
But the resolution passed last night was not enough for some in the packed crowed who interrupted Ornelas several times as she explained her concerns that using the term “sanctuary city” could result in Immigration and Custom Enforcement, or ICE, targeting the college enclave.
“I just feel like this isn’t the point to stick our head up when it’s not making anyone safer,” she said.
Federal immigration enforcement was a centerpiece of President Donald Trump's campaign and he signed what some say is a constitutionally-questionable executive order to withhold federal funding from cities, counties and states with sanctuary policies.
A hearing on a federal lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction against the order is scheduled for next week.
Meanwhile, Pitino suggested that an initiative could be placed on the city’s November ballot that would accomplish the same goal, if an ordinance was not passed soon, noting there was enough time to gather the necessary signatures.
“That’s just a thought for you,” he told the crowd.
Pitino strongly advocated for taking a sanctuary city stance, saying it was the right thing to do and calling it an opportunity “to put people’s minds at rest.”
“I think that, you know, we can say, ‘Oh, we’ll just do a resolution because we are afraid of an ordinance.’ The message that sends … is that we’re afraid,” he said, before being interrupted by applause, “and the reality is if the feds are coming after us, it doesn’t matter what we write, whether we write a resolution, an ordinance or SB 54.”