By Steven Tavares.
San Leandro became the fifth sanctuary city in Alameda County and the third local municipality to embrace a bulwark against President Trump’s immigration policies in the past month. The San Leandro City Council unanimously declared itself a sanctuary city Tuesday night after more than three hours of public testimony from immigrants, high school students, and progressive activist, some offering emotional stories filled with disillusionment and fear.
“Let’s stand big and strong against the draconian measures of the Trump administration,” San Leandro resident Christian Rodriguez told the city council, with his young son in tow. More than 50 speakers weighed-in on sanctuary city discussion. Save three of them, they overwhelmingly backed the council’s eventually decision. A number of students from San Leandro High School spoke Tuesday night with anger and despondence over the threats being lobbed by the Trump administration against immigrants.
“It is only right to speak for those not recognize by the United States government,” said Miguel Cerda, a high school senior. “You can’t blame one population of people for what one person has done.” Another student, Stephanie Rodriguez said her family has been wrongly labeled a criminal by some. “They were met with closed doors and they wanted what everybody wants, safety, education and liberty. They love America and America doesn’t love them back,” she told the council.
The city council concurred with the vast majority of an overflow crowd at City Hall, some with defiance rarely seen from San Leandro public officials. “They can take our funding but they can’t take our people,” said San Leandro Councilmember Lee Thomas. Last month, Trump issued an executive order vowing to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities.
Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter said she typically seeks to foster unity, but when it comes to the federal government’s immigration policy, she said, “I’m not going to compromise.”
“Bad laws that marginalize people are wrong,” added Councilmember Benny Lee. He called out the Trump administration for singling out some immigrant communities and not others. “He’s not going after European immigrants,” said Lee. “It’s important for us to fight this wrongdoing.”
San Leandro’s path toward sanctuary status began a few weeks after the November election, said Councilmember Corina Lopez. “We didn’t think it was going to get this bad,” she admitted. “But many of those fears have come to pass.” She called the council’s decision “a courageous and timely thing to do.”
The decision comes with some risk. San Leandro draws more than $9 million in direct, indirect and future federal dollars. A sizable portion is earmarked by the U.S. Department of Transportation for road and traffic projects. The possible loss of federal funding, though, did not weigh heavily on the council’s mind.
Councilmember Deborah Cox tweaked the truthfulness of the federal government when it comes to funding. “Quite frankly we have no guarantees it will be there anyways.” She added, “We will persist and San Leandro cannot be bought.”
City Manager Chris Zapata encountered some laughter from the audience, possibly unintentionally, when he said, “We’ll be spending the funds as rapidly as they can be spent, regardless of the policy.”
Despite fears from some residents that law enforcement will aid the U.S. Immigration and Custome Enforcement, San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor said the department’s existing policy instructs officers not to make arrests based on immigration status. “I want to be perfectly clear that public safety is the primary concern of the San Leandro Police Department, not immigration,” Tudor told the council.
“Our job is to help people regardless of their immigration status.” In addition, said Tudor, a focus on immigration status risks breaking down existing relationships in the community needed for successful public safety in the city.
— Steven Tavares (@eastbaycitizen) February 22, 2017