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Jason Walsh: How Sonoma defines its support for undocumented residents will speak volumes


“Words, like nature,” wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson, “half reveal and half conceal the soul within.”

One wonders which half of Sonoma County’s soul is being revealed in our great reluctance to say the word “sanctuary.”

In towns across the North Bay, communities are calling for their local municipalities to declare themselves “sanctuary cities” as a promise of support – and a seeking of trust – among Hispanic residents who stand in the crosshairs of the Trump administration’s avowed crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Towns like Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Petaluma and the County of Sonoma itself are steadfastly asserting their empathy and advocacy for their potentially besieged neighbors and vigorously voicing support for the individuals and families who fear local ICE raids are only an executive order away.

In accordance with the state Trust Act – which tempers law enforcement’s compliance with federal immigration investigations – local governments are emphasizing their expressed non-cooperation with any such crackdowns.

Which all appears to send a message like – don’t worry folks, were a sanctuary. Until they also make clear: But we’re not. However, we’d like to be something that sounds like it.

“Welcoming City.” That term was proposed by a Santa Rosa city official until the City Council ultimately decided upon “Indivisible City” – as if it were protecting prime numbers instead of people. Off the table, apparently, was “sanctuary city,” which would have meant Santa Rosa had to put some skin in the sanctuary game. That skin would be the hazily defined federal funds the Trump administration has promised to withhold from sanctuary cities – a thus far dubious threat that’s being challenged in court by the City of San Francisco.

The County of Sonoma, too, is hoping to reassure its “vulnerable communities” without any assurances that involve the word “sanctuary.”

Two weeks ago in this column I suggested the City of Sonoma should hold its own discussion about “sanctuary city” status and floated similar not-so-sanctuary possibilities as “Welcoming City” or, you name it – “Friendly Word Here City” and “Open Minded Word There City.” It’s the thought that counts, right?

Well, when Santa Rosa went with Indivisible City, it was like: thud. Nothin.’ The Council got to feel good, but made no real public commitment. It was like finding out your girlfriend of six months hasn’t yet told her friends she is dating you. “It’ll be our special secret! We’re a sanctuary city with benefits… no one has to know but us!”

Recall the movie “High Noon,” where everyone in town swears allegiance to the Sheriff and curses the outlaws, but no one’s willing to pick up a Remington when it matters.

Or better, consider the old joke that goes like this:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto are pinned down at the end of a deadly Comanche raid, out of both bullets – and hope.

Lone Ranger: “Well, Tonto. It looks like this is the end. But I have no regrets – I’m proud to have fought for truth and justice with you by my side, kemosabe.”

Tonto (getting ready to run off and join the Indians): “Who you calling ‘kemosabe,’ white man?”

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, the Sonoma City Council is planning to open a community discussion about declaring support – in some form or another, or not at all – for the undocumented Hispanics of the Valley many of whom pour our wine, wash our cottons, kneel in our churches and attend our schools.

While Sonoma approaches the sanctuary city dance, they’d be wise not to do the “indivisible city” bop or the “welcoming city” mambo. Don’t two-step around the question of whether we support the Hispanic community when it really matters. The Santa Rosa City Council made a mistake with its Progressive Voter Satisfying Name Here City declaration – not because they don’t mean it, but because it rings hollow. Which is exactly the wrong message to send to those in distress.

This is one of the moments that might require putting something on the line.

And, as to that – the question of withholding federal funds from cities that seek to protect its most vulnerable. If city officials really think that it’s even remotely possible that the President would try to bring li’l ol’ Sonoma to the whoopin’ post for standing up for its tired, weak, huddled masses – they should appreciate the type of federal government they’re dealing with, and act accordingly.

They should offer sanctuary. Real sanctuary with real words. If not for any higher moral purpose than for simple common decency.

If not for our kemosabes, than for ourselves.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.