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News: 03/01/2017

Fear and loathing in Sonoma County

Anxiety, confusion in immigrant community results in action

Growing “fear and anxiety in our immigrant community” was the reason given last week as county supervisors took an unusual jump into the national immigration storm. They supported state measures aimed at mitigating possible wholesale deportations and called on all county departments to look at the services and funds available to determine and cope with immigrant needs, be they legal or undocumented, in the county. These needs include healthcare, school, law enforcement, and anything else impacted by the flurry of Executive Orders from the White House.

The new rules have threatened to cut off federal funds to cities, states, schools or other recipients if they refuse to actively cooperate with immigration agency requests, creating fear and uncertainty in governments, schools, and people everywhere.

“This report provides a summary of recent County actions to address the growing fear and anxiety in our immigrant community,” begins the staff report supervisors endorsed on Feb. 21, the same day the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a lengthy Fact Sheet about the new federal immigration guidelines.

The first Executive Order (EO) called for closing the border as much as possible, building walls and detention facilities, and stepping up deportations. The second EO authorized cutting federal funds to cities and states that do not cooperate with the new deportation rules. The third refused entry for anyone coming from seven named “terrorist” countries.

The resulting new DHS policies broaden the agency’s powers to decide who can be targeted, from serious criminals to anybody standing around during a raid, and anyone “suspected of being a threat to national security.” The implied threat to civil liberties is alarming a lot of people, immigrant and otherwise.

Parents are scared they will be arrested and deported along with their kids.

“A lot of time the children, full citizens, are also impacted,” Sita Kuteria of the Sonoma County Administrator’s Office said. “We are looking to address their issues.” Kuteria said the process is just beginning. “Part of the work is assessing what are the impacts in the community. Who has barriers to services, from totally undocumented immigrants, to others with a certain level of documentation, but maybe not so enabled? We’ll have a lot more clarity in two months.”

The county will schedule community workshops and explore other options of making services both relevant and available.

It has been public policy since a 1982 Supreme Court case that schools do not check on citizenship status for enrollment. All children are required to attend school. Kenwood School checks residency, not immigration status, Principal Bob Bales said.

“We need our families to feel comfortable and confident,” Kenwood School Board President Pat Alexander said. “We want to know that our kids feel comfortable. If there’s an issue where some child doesn’t feel comfortable or welcome, we’ll address that. Our polices have always been inclusive.”

The Sonoma Valley Unified School District will address these issues at their next board meeting on Feb. 28 (after this paper has gone to print), and are expected to pass a Resolution of Commitment to Safe Schools, Honoring the Civil Rights and Dignity of All People. Essentially, the resolution emphasizes existing policy and will refer any future immigration policies to the superintendent, Louann Carlemagno.

“It’s us being proactive and letting our parents and students know that we are here for them,” Carlemagno said. “We’ll do everything in our power to make them feel safe at school. They can reach out to us if they have questions or need assistance.”

The Valley of the Moon, and particularly the Springs area just outside the City of Sonoma, is home to many thousands of Hispanic people. While Kenwood’s school had just 11 percent Hispanic enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year (15 out of 141), neighboring Dunbar Elementary School’s student body was 69 percent Hispanic (158 out of 223). Overall, the Sonoma Valley School District was 57 percent Hispanic (2,606 out of 4,610).

La Luz, an organization based in the Springs to help with a variety of immigrant issues, has already held informational meetings, including how to prepare guardianship documents for those fearful of being separated from their children.

“Know Your Rights” will be presented by La Luz at El Verano School from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 7, with Lucy Benz-Rogers, attorney for the International Institute of the Bay Area.

Besides calling for 5,000 new border agents, the DHS is also looking to expand a controversial program of getting local police to act as immigration enforcement, something many local police agencies are reluctant to get into for a variety of reasons, not least the cost and potential liability of holding people longer than legally required on the say so of potentially bad information.

Congress has not appropriated funding to hire the new agents, and DHS has admitted they are having a hard time filling existing job openings.

Refusing to go along with co-opting local law enforcement is at the heart of State Senate Bill 54, sponsored by California’s Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon, representing Senate District 24 in San Diego. It is also at the heart of many cities’ “sanctuary” programs.

The county convened about 20 local immigration attorneys to think about how best to serve the legal needs of undocumented residents. It has had a program in place since 2014 to help children who fled violent conditions in their home countries.

Going forward, the county will assess existing programs through the month of March, including setting up a bilingual website to post available training, workshops and sources for help. Workshops will be implemented in May and June in each supervisorial district. In July and August, county staff will collate their findings and come up with proposals to “address access to services and improve immigrant rights within the communities.”


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