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Jason Walsh: Sonoma’s ‘commitment to diversity’ lacks genuine commitment


In its recently and unanimously approved resolution to “affirm the City’s commitment to a diverse” community, the Sonoma City Council vowed to “reject bigotry in all its forms,” speak out against bullying and discrimination, “oppose attempts to undermine the safety” of the community and ensure the rights of everyone in Sonoma.

All of which begs the question: Was the City of Sonoma not doing those things in the first place?

The answer, obviously, is of course it has stood for those things; by its very nature as a city bound together by a shared common decency it intends to ensure rights and keep residents safe.

Like other municipalities in Sonoma County, the Sonoma City Council had been lobbied by local activists to make an official city statement of support for our community of undocumented residents who’ve lived in quiet fear ever since the Trump administration declared its “military operation” to deport illegal immigrants “at rate nobody’s seen before.”

But what the undocumented immigrant community – and no small amount of the Sonoma citizenry -- was looking for was a firm stand against the promised federal crackdown on the “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” that President Trump described in 2015 as the typical illegal immigrant.

But the resolution has more meticulously parsed platitudes than it does firm stands. And, thus, is unfortunately a missed opportunity for the city to make a bold statement in support for what is perhaps its most vulnerable community.

In one of the few sentences that directly addresses federal plans to send ICE agents scouring the nation for the estimated 11 million “bad hombres” living in the shadows, the resolution “calls upon the federal government… to refrain from deportations who have not been convicted of felonies endangering the community…”

I wish my kids were that polite when they call on me to refrain from deporting them to their bedrooms every night at 8:30 p.m.

But who knows; maybe if Sonoma asks nicely, the DOJ will back off.

The only time the resolution uses the words “undocumented immigrants” is when it calls for Congress to legislate a pathway to citizenship for them. Nowhere does it point out that peaceable undocumented immigrants are part of the vibrant community that is the Sonoma Valley, and we’ll have their back. Nowhere does acknowledge that the very necessity of such a resolution stems from moral injustices vowed toward undocumented Latino immigrants alone. Nowhere does it say: Hey, ICE, we know you’re just following orders, but please – stay away from Sonoma.

Nowhere does the resolution suggest Sonoma do anything noticeably different than it has already been doing.

Many residents (and this column) had called for the City Council to declare Sonoma a “sanctuary city,” apparently a strong designation – at least in the eyes of hopeful undocumented families, and the federal government alike. It unofficially implies that local authorities will refuse to assist efforts by federal immigration agents to identify undocumented immigrants, save for violent criminals. To immigrants – documented and not -- such a status lends credence to the idea that local authorities are people they can trust in times of crisis; people they can call on in emergencies without anxiety about their status.

To no surprise, the Trump administration’s executive order threatening a withholding of grants funds toward sanctuary cities was struck down by a circuit court judge this week – an entirely predictable turn of events given the unconstitutionality of holding federal funds hostage in a debate over a matter of federal law enforcement.

Yet the City Council has been very skittish about the term “sanctuary”; at least a dozen community members called for it April 17 during the public comment period on the resolution. No one on the City Council that night addressed what was clearly a conscious decision to avoid the term.

Let’s be clear: The foreshadowed ICE raids may never happen; Sonoma may be too small a fish for the federal net. Perhaps it’s more likely that they’ll focus on bigger cities; maybe it’s all bravado from the White House.

But Sonoma’s undocumented families can’t plan their kids’ future based on a maybe. They can’t “hope” they’ll be around next year for the third-grade play.

They shouldn’t question whether to call the police in an emergency, whether to seek help in times of crisis.

The Sonoma City Council seems to have wanted to do a good turn for the immigrant community; perhaps there were too many cooks in the kitchen (a Council subcommittee fielded input from community members and no doubt other city officials); maybe an abundance of opinions watered down the soup to a tasteless broth.

But whatever the reason, it remains a disappointment.

In its efforts to stand for a specific community of undocumented men, women and children, Sonoma produced a resolution that instead stands for everything.

Which is another way to produce a resolution that, in any truly meaningful way, stands for nothing.

Email Jason at Jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.