SLO declares itself a ‘welcoming city’ in response to Trump immigration policy

View of the city San Luis Obispo from the Irish Hills.
View of the city San Luis Obispo from the Irish Hills. lclark@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo is now a “welcoming city” to immigrants regardless of their legal status and will not directly enforce federal laws related to immigration, under a resolution passed Tuesday by the City Council.

The resolution stops short of declaring San Luis Obispo a sanctuary city, which could subject it to a loss of federal funding. Typically, sanctuary cities refuse to cooperate with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in its efforts to detain, question or deport people based on their immigration status.

As a welcoming city, San Luis Obispo won’t use city resources or directly enforce federal immigration laws, and the city urges residents and employees to report acts of bullying, discrimination and violence against suspected immigrants.

“Our policy is in response to the federal administration stance on immigration,” Mayor Heidi Harmon said.

Harmon continued: “SLO is committed to welcoming all people regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion or immigration status. It is my goal to always support a community that is safe and creates equal opportunities for all. This resolution sets a great example for surrounding communities and extends kind and open arms to those that call this wonderful city home.”

The “welcoming city” resolution, unanimously supported by the council, states that President Donald Trump’s executive orders and remarks by federal officials have created uncertainty and fear in communities nationwide, including San Luis Obispo, and that many children native to the United States have been separated from their families solely because of their parents’ immigration status.

At the same time, the city won’t try to block any efforts by federal officials to enforce federal law in San Luis Obispo because the city could lose federal funding under an executive order signed by Trump in January. Numerous cities and counties, including Santa Clara County, San Francisco and Seattle have sued the Trump administration over the order.

San Luis Obispo receives an ongoing allocation of $3.8 million in federal funds and more than $11 million in one-time allocations for transportation, community development and public safety, including $7.3 million for the Marsh Street bridge replacement.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick said that if any federal funding were to be withheld from the city based on the new resolution, she believes that would violate the U.S. Constitution.

The city doesn’t use any resources to investigate or apprehend people solely for immigration violation enforcement and does not assist ICE for the sole purpose of enforcing immigration violations, San Luis Obispo police Chief Deanna Cantrell said.

“Of course, undocumented immigrants who commit serious and violent crimes should be subject to federal immigration laws, but our local police do not have the jurisdiction or legal authority to enforce immigration law,” Cantrell said.

In cases in which ICE is picking up someone or serving a search warrant, the department may block off a street or evacuate residences. The department also will assist in apprehending or detaining people with outstanding criminal warrants, she said.

“As police, our main goal is to ensure public safety,” Cantrell said. “With that in mind, we don’t ask people their status — whether they are considered potential victims, witnesses or suspects.”

Jane Lehr, Cal Poly’s Women’s & Gender Studies faculty chair, spoke in favor of the resolution, saying that Cal Poly and the California State University system has adopted similar policies to stand with undocumented immigrants.

“We need to ensure that immigrants can participate in civic life and daily activities, and when necessary, interact with the San Luis Obispo police and city officials without fear of unwarranted intervention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Lehr said.

A Cal Poly employee who moved to the United States from Mexico when she was 2 years old and recently received a conditional green card said she still lives in fear that her status can be taken away. She said she hid her status for years and asked not to be named by The Tribune.

“I feel there could be some repercussions by exposing that I was living here while being undocumented,” said the woman, who graduated from Cal Poly and now works there. “Especially with what has been going on politically since the presidential election, it’s awesome to see the city create a safe environment for immigrants and make it publicly known.”

More than 9,000 undocumented immigrants live in the county, according to the Public Policy Institute of California’s 2013 report.

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