Split views on sanctuary

Activists march to protect undocumented immigrants in Chico as Butte County moves in opposite direction

About 100 people marched in Chico last weekend urging the city to declare sanctuary status for undocumented immigrants. .

About 100 people marched in Chico last weekend urging the city to declare sanctuary status for undocumented immigrants. .

Photo by Ken Smith

Rocio Guido spends a good deal of time driving the local highways and byways for her job teaching classes on citizenship and English as a second language for the Butte and Glenn county offices of education. During those drives, she sees something in the North State landscape she believes is lost on local policy-makers and business owners, particularly in the agriculture industry.

She sees hypocrisy.

“When the elections were happening, there was ‘Trump Trump Trump’ signs in every field … but who was working there?” Guido said to about 100 people gathered at the Chico City Plaza last week for a rally and march in support of a proposal that city officials declare Chico a sanctuary city. “Brown- and black-haired people. I see our people picking those fields, and I see the ranchers who hire them who voted for Trump and are supporting [his immigration policies] … it doesn’t make sense.”

Guido added that the duplicity she perceives extends beyond fields and orchards: “[Immigrants] pay taxes and make the economy in this town flourish,” she continued. “Look at the kitchens in every restaurant, or go to hotels and see who is cleaning your rooms. There’s a lot of hypocrisy in this community, which refuses to recognize the contribution of immigrants.”

Saturday’s march was in response to the Chico City Council’s Feb. 21 decision to quash further discussion about Chico becoming a sanctuary city. The Butte County Board of Supervisors will discuss two items related to sanctuary status next Tuesday (March 14), albeit from a decidedly different angle.

At the board’s last meeting (Feb. 28), Supervisor Larry Wahl suggested the supervisors echo the stance taken by their counterparts in Tehama and Siskiyou counties who in February declared those places regions of “non-sanctuary.” The local board will also vote on approving a draft letter to the state of California objecting to Senate Bill 54, a proposed “sanctuary state” law—currently in the Senate—aimed at preventing the use of state and local public resources to aid U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in deportation actions.

Local governments all over California are weighing the merits and dangers of sanctuary status in light of President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order that charges local law enforcement to act as immigration agents and threatens to withhold federal funds from jurisdictions that declare sanctuary status or otherwise don’t comply with the order.

“The trouble with this topic is there’s no clearly defined definition for what a sanctuary jurisdiction is,” Casey Hatcher, a county public information officer, said by phone. “We are using the definition that it’s any jurisdiction with policies in place that offer safe harbor for undocumented immigrants by limiting cooperation with federal immigration agencies, and by deliberately refusing to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts.”

Butte County hasn’t declared sanctuary status, but Wahl said by phone that he believes it may be perceived as such, due partly to existing state laws.

California has two laws on the books limiting law enforcement cooperation with ICE—2014’s Trust Act, and the Truth Act, which went into effect Jan. 1. The former dictates that local law enforcement shouldn’t comply with ICE detainer orders unless certain criteria are met, and it protects immigrants who are victims of or witnesses to a crime from deportation; the latter requires that law enforcement provide notice to inmates in custody whom ICE intends to detain and deport.

“It seems to be that the state considers us all sanctuary counties, but I guess it depends on what you read and who you talk to,” Wahl said of the need to make an official non-sanctuary declaration. “I want to clarify that we will follow federal laws in dealing with illegal aliens, and that we certainly won’t jeopardize our federal funding over this issue.”

Wahl said he isn’t worried about running afoul of state law to carry out Trump’s order: “Federal law takes precedence over those things, and it has to be followed,” he said.

Angélica Salceda, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said non-sanctuary declarations like the one being considered here buck the statewide trend.

“More and more California counties are actually reaffirming or passing new policies that promote fair policing and keep immigrant communities safer,” Salceda said via email. “Trump may hope that cities and counties buckle under his threat, but local government and law enforcement officials have been preparing to defend their policies on how best to protect public safety in their communities.”

And, with just two weeks between Wahl’s anti-sanctuary pitch and a possible decision, it’s likely the effects of such an action on the county’s labor force haven’t been fully explored.

Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Butte County and the state. The latest crop reports (from 2015) from the county’s agriculture commissioner and state Department of Food and Agriculture estimate the gross value of the county and state’s agricultural output at $775 million and $27 billion, respectively.

A 2013 study by nonpartisan research group Public Policy Institute of California estimated the state was home to 2.67 million undocumented immigrants, including 1.85 million in the work force. The PPIC report notes that undocumented workers account for a disproportionate percentage of workers in the farming, construction, production, service and transportation/materials moving industries. The study also reports that, nationally, 40 percent of undocumented immigrants live with children who were born here and are legal residents.

“This isn’t a discussion about immigrant communities as much as it is about setting policy to comply with the executive order,” Hatcher said when asked if county staff had sought information or feedback on the possible effects of non-sanctuary status on various communities and industries.

Wahl said he doesn’t believe declaring Butte County as non-sanctuary could impact local industry, agriculture or otherwise.

“I don’t see how it would,” he said.