Berkeley Mayor-elect, council members reaffirm city’s sanctuary status

Students in Berkeley on Nov. 9 demonstrated against threatened immigrant deportation. Photo: Anthony Bertolli

Berkeley Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguín held a press conference Tuesday to make clear that he and the City Council will ensure the city remains a sanctuary city, offering protection to immigrants and undocumented residents.

“There’s a great deal of fear in our community,” Arreguín said, standing on the steps of City Hall alongside many city council members, the president of the Berkeley Unified School Board, and Mary Nicely, representing Assemblymember Tony Thurmond. The Council will propose a resolution at its next meeting, councilwoman Lori Droste said, reaffirming Berkeley’s status as a city of refuge.

Tuesday’s statements were in response to threats made by President-elect Donald Trump to penalize, through the withdrawal of federal funds, cities that refuse to turn over undocumented immigrants to officials.

A forum on immigration rights will be held tonight, Tuesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Berkeley — scroll down for details.

Berkeley is one of more than 300 self-described sanctuary cities around the country. The City Council declared Berkeley to be a City of Refuge in 1971 and has had occasion to re-affirm that status several times since, including in 2007 during local raids by the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and in 2015 when the city said it would welcome Syrian refugees. 

Berkeley receives around $11.5 million in federal funding to help the city’s most vulnerable, including spending on housing, supportive care, emergency shelter and health services.

One of the local organizations working with refugees and immigrants is the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. Manuel De Paz, Director of EBSC’s community development and education program, spoke at the press conference about the high number of deportations during both the Bush and Obama administrations. “The threat is even worse now,” he said. “This breaks down our families, our community and our economy.” De Paz also said that many of the immigrants likely to be targeted “pay taxes and do the jobs nobody else wants to do.” He cited working the fields harvesting produce as an example.

Arreguin press conference Nov. 22. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Among those attending the press conference reaffirming Berkeley’s status as a sanctuary city on Nov. 22 were: council members Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf, Lori Droste, Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington and Cheryl Davila (not shown), along with Mayor-elect Jesse Arreguín, BUSD Board President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, Manuel De Paz of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, Mary Nicely of Assemblymember Tony Thurmond’s office, and Father Rigoberto Calocarivas of the Multicultural Institute. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“Berkeley has long been a city of refuge,” the Mayor-elect said. “We will not build walls in Berkeley. We will tear down walls.” He stressed that being a sanctuary city does not affect how Berkeley’s police enforce the law. “Police will continue acting vigilantly to go after violent crime, regardless of a suspect’s immigration status,” he said.

Arreguín said he had been visiting Berkeley schools — including Rosa Parks Elementary and King Middle School Tuesday — and meeting with students, including some who are undocumented. “Many students are afraid of what’s going to happen,” he told Berkeleyside.

His words were echoed by BUSD Board President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler who said the district was standing behind its students in the face of “unconscionable overreach.” “We are not going to despair,” she said. “We are going to do everything we can to protect our students.”

Vice-Mayor Linda Maio spoke of “people we know” “trembling” with fear — “think of a child born here who is facing the specter of a parent being deported,” she said.

Other cities have spoken up to re-assert their commitment to providing sanctuary, including Los Angeles, Oakland and Richmond. The mayors of more than 100 cities representing 55 million people have co-signed an open letter to the President-elect stating that “the wellbeing of immigrants affects the wellbeing of all.”

It was during his campaigning that Trump first talked of cutting federal funding for sanctuary cities. At a rally in Phoenix in August where he spoke about his immigration plans, he said: “Block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding… Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.”

Since then, Trump has picked Senator Jeff Sessions for the post of attorney general. Sessions is supported by the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform which has called on Sessions to rid the country of sanctuary cities.

The BUSD Office of Family Engagement and Equity, in collaboration with the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and the East Bay Community Law Center, is hosting a forum on immigration rights on Nov. 22, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Longfellow Middle School, 1500 Derby St. Refreshments and childcare will be provided. There will be a presentation by immigration attorney Mark Silverman focusing on the constitutional rights of immigrants in the U.S. Afterward, participants at the forum will have the opportunity to meet with an immigration attorney or trained volunteer for a 15-minute consultation aimed at helping identify potential immigration remedies. Services will be available in Spanish, Mam, French, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Pangasinan, and Portuguese. 

Local church offers sanctuary to those facing deportation (07.14.16)
Berkeley says ‘no’ to federal immigration detainers (10.31.12)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside. Email: