San Rafael OKs advisory letter on ‘sanctuary state’ bill
San Rafael city leaders took what some said was a small step forward this week to acknowledge the state Legislature’s pending unofficially named “sanctuary state” bill — but stopped short of sending a letter of support, as some residents had demanded for weeks.
The move came the day before religious leaders protested what they called human rights violations by federal ICE officers against the local immigrant community.
On Monday night, San Rafael City Council members voted 4-0 to send what they called an “advisory letter” to the state that the city was already taking some of the steps mentioned in Senate Bill 54 to protect local immigrants from undue harassment or detention by ICE officers.
If passed, SB 54, also called the “California Values Act,” would prohibit local or state law enforcement officers from helping ICE officers question, detain or deport community members who are not suspected of violent crimes or other felonies. San Rafael police Chief Diana Bishop has already said her officers would not routinely cooperate with ICE, unless it were necessary to protect public safety.
“We’re disappointed at not receiving a letter of support for SB 54,” said Omar Carerra, executive director of San Rafael-based Canal Alliance, of Monday’s decision. “At the same time, we consider it a positive step to see this advisory letter from the (city) to (the state) about practices the city has had for a year to enhance trust between the San Rafael Police Department and the immigrant community.”
The council’s decision came the night before a group of Jewish leaders demonstrated Tuesday morning at the ICE detention center in Richmond “in protest of federal immigration officials tearing our communities apart and tearing families apart” by detaining law-abiding immigrant residents, said Ayelet Hines of T’ruah, a Jewish human rights group that organized the protest. The case of Hugo Mejia of San Rafael, father of three and a union construction worker who has been detained in an ICE prison in Elk Grove since early May, was cited at the event. Mejia, who is undocumented, has not been accused of criminal activity, but was seized by ICE based on a deportation order from 2001.
“Hugo Mejia is part of our extended community,” said Rabbi Elana Rosen-Brown of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, a speaker at the protest. “Judaism teaches that every human being is created in the divine image.
“Images of God don’t belong behind bars just for the ‘crime’ of seeking a safe home and brighter future for their children,” she said.
Later, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he has been actively lobbying officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Mejia’s release on bond or to get him a fair hearing. Mejia’s co-worker Rodrigo Nunez, who was arrested by ICE along with Mejia, has already been deported to Mexico.
“We need someone in DHS to show some mercy and do the right thing,” Huffman said Tuesday in a phone interview. “Hugo is a model community member who has been ripped from his family and is facing summary deportation without having done any crimes.”
He said Homeland Security officials “do have some discretion” and “they are not powerless to do the right thing.” He added that Mejia was a perfect example of the type of person who does not deserve to be in prison and facing deportation.
“This is not who we are as a country, and not who the Trump administration said would be targeted,” Huffman said.
“We were assured they would focus (an immigration crackdown) on violent criminals — it’s a real betrayal of those assurances.”
At Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Gary Phillips said he believes the advisory letter is the best course to take while SB 54 is still being amended.
“I think we’re doing this right,” said Phillips, noting that the bill had been amended six times and could be amended again. “It’s not finished; we don’t know what we’d be supporting.”
Activist Pat Johnstone of Sanctuary Marin said she was glad the city “moved the dial a little bit” in favor of human rights, but she said more action was needed.
“These are not normal times,” said Johnstone, of San Anselmo. “How could you look at what happened in Charlottesville and the president’s response to it, and not think we need to take a strong moral stand?”
She noted that more than 200 other cities and jurisdictions have already voted to send a letter of support for SB 54, including San Anselmo and Fairfax and the county Board of Supervisors.
Phillips said, however, that the bill has not yet won the support of statewide police chiefs and county sheriffs groups. Because of that, it would be an “awkward situation” to support the bill and potentially risk any negative impact to Bishop or other local law enforcement leaders, he said.
“I just don’t think it would be appropriate,” Phillips said.
Voting with Phillips to send the advisory letter were council members Maribeth Bushey, John Gamblin and Andrew McCullough. Councilwoman Kate Colin was absent, but she previously stated she was in favor of sending a letter of support for the bill. Tuesday’s prayer protest by the Jewish clergy comes just a few days before white supremacist groups have planned two rallies in the Bay Area. One event is set for Saturday at Crissy Field in San Francisco; the other is planned for Sunday at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park in Berkeley.
san rafael letter
Dear Senate President pro Tempore de Leon:
The City of San Rafael wishes to help inform the debate over SB 54 by sharing San Rafael’s law enforcement practices as they relate to our immigrant community.
The City of San Rafael has long operated with an abiding respect for all members of our community. We are a city for all of our residents and businesses and are proud of the trust that we have built with our immigrant community. Immigrants are valued and essential members of San Rafael and we are a stronger city for it.
This commitment is not new. When someone calls 911, our police and fire departments are there to help those in need in their time of need. Our libraries, community centers, parks and childcare centers are safe places for everyone.
Attached to to this letter, please find the City of San Rafael’s policies in this area. This document explains our values and we hope they will assist you in the current debate over SB 54.
Gary Phillips, Mayor
Jim Schutz, City Manager
Sen. Mike McGuire
Assemblymember Marc Levine
Nancy Hall Bennett, League of California Cities