Arcata Moves Forward With Sanctuary City Status


The Arcata City Council took the first steps toward becoming a sanctuary city this week in a reversal of position from one month ago when a divided board stopped just short of the declaration.

After the 4-1 vote on May 16, Councilmember Michael Winkler stated he supported the body of the ordinance but cast his dissenting vote due to fears the specific wording of sanctuary city would “put a weapon in Trump’s hands.”

He emphasized that he was adamantly opposed to the “fascist (President Donald) Trump regime and all its immigration policies and many other policies.”

“I don’t want to give them the power to punish us and the people of Arcata,” Winkler said.

Even before hearing lengthy public comment in support of the sanctuary city ordinance, Mayor Susan Ornelas addressed the crowd to say she had changed her mind on the issue after speaking with undocumented community members.

The conversations, Ornelas said, transformed her view from one of concern that the sanctuary label could attract immigration enforcement to the college enclave to an understanding that the words symbolized a more hopeful future to many of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“I support sanctuary city in Arcata at this point,” she told the chamber audience.

The ordinance is very similar to a resolution approved last month, confirming the city’s support for backing the “civil rights, safety and dignity of all Arcata residents.”

But the council split 2-2 on using the term sanctuary city in April, with councilmembers Paul Pitino and Sofia Pereira in favor and Ornelas and Winkler voicing concerns. A decision was made to bring back the item when a replacement for Mark Wheetley — who had recently stepped down to become Fortuna’s city manager — was seated to break the tie.

Councilmember Brett Watson, who was unanimously selected for the position on April 19, spoke at this week’s meeting about his grandparents, who had immigrated to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico.

He said family stories indicated they lived in trees in the hills above a valley until they saved enough money for a home to raise their family in. Immigrants, Watson said, are among the county’s great entrepreneurs.

“I feel that continuing to create sanctuary cities is not only important to our communities, it’s important to our economy,” he said.

The sanctuary city ordinance states that the council “opposes deportations based solely on immigration status” and includes provisions that the Arcata Police Department “shall not collaborate or share information” with federal immigration authorities unless required to by state or federal law.

City Manager Karen Diemer noted that the ordinance and previously passed resolution were really a pulling together of past and current practices of the APD and the city.

She said the city and APD’s “long standing practice” has been to protect the civil rights of all residents.
After being passed at the first reading, the ordinance will come back for adoption at a future meeting and — if approved — will be become official 30 days later.

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