Students and the Watsonville Brown Berets want Santa Cruz mayor and UCSC lecturer Ryan Coonerty to support AB 1081, the Trust Act. They staged their protest unannounced in Coonerty’s Law and Democracy class on May 25. Photos by Sal Ingram.

It was a normal Wednesday lecture in Engineering 2 last week. Students discussed their upcoming final with Santa Cruz mayor and lecturer Ryan Coonerty.

Then, around 40 UC Santa Cruz students and Watsonville Brown Beret members unexpectedly entered the classroom. As they circled the room holding signs that read “Shame on you Ryan Coonerty” and “Si con AB 1081,” they addressed Coonerty, then ceded the floor for his response.

On their website, the Watsonville Brown Berets describe themselves as a community force organized to defend and liberate their barrios. Brown Beret members were joined by sympathetic UCSC students as they appealed to Coonerty to support a resolution on AB 1081.

“We feel you acted cowardly,” said Sandino Gomez, a Brown Beret, in a statement addressed to the mayor. “Why did you stand against the resolution?”

AB 1081, known as the Trust Act, focuses on illegal immigration and deportation issues. Under AB 1081, a county can maintain the right to refuse to send fingerprints of all arrested individuals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Currently, counties are required to send this information to ICE as part of a program known as Secure Communities.

Secure Communities, in correlation with Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, works to identify and deport illegal immigrants. Demonstrators say that according to the policies of Secure Communities, non-criminals are being deported.

“Because of Secure Communities, families are being destroyed,” Gomez said. “Employers are losing employees, partners are losing partners.”

AB 1081 would counteract Secure Communities. A resolution supporting AB 1081 would solidify Coonerty’s support for the bill, but would not make any legislative change.

Coonerty has thus far not decided to voice support for AB 1081.

He told demonstrators his position on the Trust Act is directly related to his belief that it is not a policy the county should be focusing its energy on. Instead, he suggested that the demonstrators engage in a dialogue with government officials at the state and federal level where change would be more effective.

“You can engage in all this rhetoric that is empty, or you can go out and try to change something,” Coonerty said to the demonstrators.

Nonetheless, the demonstrators maintain that what they want from Coonerty is open support of the Trust Act through a resolution — and they want to know why he is choosing not to.

“It’s not enough to say, ‘It’s not my responsibility, not my issue,’” Gomez said. “We’re looking for him to take a symbolic stand. We’re quite aware the resolution is not going to change policy.”

The atmosphere quickly changed when one demonstrator spoke out, cutting off Coonerty.

In response, members of the class began to speak up, reminding the demonstrators that Coonerty had allowed them their chance to speak. Although the demonstrators only remained in the room for approximately 10 minutes, the tension was palpable.

“We came to hold him accountable,” Tomas Alejo, one of the demonstrators, said. “For him not to support our resolution when he had a majority of the community in favor of it is him not paying attention to the values that he preaches.”

Coonerty said for as long as he’s been with the university, he has not seen a protest carried out this way. The protest left Coonerty’s class with mixed feelings.

“A lot of students were aggravated because [Coonerty] was talking about the final,” third-year Maria Isabel Capacete said.

Others were sympathetic to the demonstrators’ cause, but still disagreed with their methods.

“I think the cause they’ve chosen to undertake is an important one,” third-year Guy Herschmann said. “But I think the way they handled it was inappropriate.”

The demonstrators said they were not looking to upset students.

“We don’t want to impact their education in a negative way,” Gomez said. “If anything, our goal was that students would learn something and would perhaps think about the issue in a different light.”

Coonerty explained Santa Cruz has worked on creating and implementing a helpline for immigrant workers, and Santa Cruz is known as a sanctuary city for non-citizens.

“[The Brown Berets and I] have been on the same side on a lot of issues and on different sides on a lot of other issues,” Coonerty said. “Like everything in politics, we don’t always see eye to eye. I respect their passion and I respect the concerns they raise. They are really vital concerns.”