Illustration by Owen Thomas.
Illustration by Owen Thomas.

Following Santa Cruz’s thirty-year sanctuary status, Santa Cruz City Council members voted unanimously on Jan. 10 to remain a sanctuary city for undocumented residents.

Throughout his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump said he plans to deport 2 to 3 million undocumented individuals. Santa Cruz’s resolution creates a consensus on the issue within the local government — city officials promise to maintain a “safe space” for immigrants, despite what the federal government may require.

The resolution is not a legal mandate, but a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the undocumented community, which remains at risk of deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported about 2.5 million undocumented persons under the Obama administration between 2009-15.

“I had a friend who lost his mother to deportation,” said undocumented second-year Angel Cano. “ICE interrogated him and somehow they were able to find charges against [his mother].”

UC Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz city’s sanctuary statuses make Cano comfortable with publicly disclosing his citizen status. Yet he remains skeptical due to his friend’s experience.

The “Resolution to Maintain Trust and Safety for Local Immigrants” says it generates a trust-based relationship between city officials and immigrant residents, regardless of their citizenship status. It also commends city police for not enforcing federal immigration law and not using immigration status as grounds for police actions.

One mandate of the resolution is to not provide public records or cooperate with federal agencies, like ICE, for deportation actions. The city acknowledged the fear felt by undocumented workers, families and students within the community and California.

California Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De León introduced Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, in early December to prevent the use of state resources and personnel to aid federal ICE agents in deportation actions.

“I too am planning to sign the California Values Act,” said Santa Cruz City Council member Sandy Brown. “I hope that we can support our city standing up to injustice.”

Nationwide, there are at least 364 counties and 39 cities that hold sanctuary status, according to Mother Jones. In each municipality, sanctuary status carries its own meaning for the community. In Santa Cruz, sanctuary status means solidarity and that people need protection in the community, said UCSC faculty member and council member, Chris Krohn.

Santa Cruz community organizations, like People’s Democratic Club and Veterans for Peace, assembled with immigrants and other organization members to discuss ways to get involved in the sanctuary movement. This coalition led to the creation of Sanctuary Santa Cruz (SSC), a network of organizations working together to protect all residents under the slogan, “Nadie es ilegal” — “No one is illegal.”

“We recruited about 20 people for lobbying [… and] also met with the chief of police,” said Paul Johnston, UCSC sociologist researcher and SSC organizer.

With 130 members and counting, SSC prepares grassroots trainings within the immigrant community to educate families and individuals on their rights and what they can do if faced with ICE.

“Anytime someone knocked on the door very hard,  I would run and hide under the sink with my son,” said Ernestina Saldaña, a public speaker at the City Council meeting and member of advocacy groups for undocumented residents. Organizers respond to stories like Saldaña’s to create a safer environment for all community members before Jan. 20.

Santa Cruz’s undocumented residents are no strangers to federal raids. In 2008, ICE arrested five undocumented residents in Watsonville and two in Capitola, leading organizers — like Johnston — to push for stronger policy.

The resolution isn’t a formal law, and this legal ambiguity remains a concern for residents. One of 26 public speakers said to city officials, “You need to pass something with more teeth.”

Many audience members at the meeting advocated for an ordinance — a formal law that requires at least one month to take affect. This would make federal immigration actions illegal in Santa Cruz. As of now, City Council members will not meet again until sometime in February. Johnston and other organizers hope an amendment will be made to notify the city when federal immigration officials are in town.

SSC will host a number of events to financially and emotionally support undocumented and immigrant residents in Santa Cruz county and to establish a voice for residents affected by immigration policy.

“We’re fighters,” Cano said. “We will continue to fight because we’ve made it this far.”