Point of Focus: Part I-The Fight For a Sanctuary County

Mar 5, 2018

The uncertainty with DACA--which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals--is felt hard within the Humboldt immigrant community, and it's not just students feeling stuck. 

People like Renee Saucedo, a steering member of Centro Del Pueblo--a group focused on improving the rights of immigrants, both documented and undocumented--want to see Humboldt County become a Sanctuary for those who may be targeted by Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) working with local law enforcement.

“We might be unpopular right now, but in a few years people will be saying, 'how could we have ever doubted the importance of being a sanctuary county?” Saucedo said. 

According to Saucedo, undocumented immigrants face the reality of deportation by ICE. Today was the deadline for Congress to "fix" DACA, but court rulings blocked President Donald Trump from phasing out the program for now, and negotiations for the program are stalled in Congress.  This leaves many immigrants in limbo as they try to navigate places that may not seem safe for them to roam. 

"We're talking about almost 800,000 people, you know at a national level," Saucedo said. "We ... don't have exact statistics, but we're talking close to 1,000 people in our region alone." 

Saucedo is working with other advocates in Centro del Pueblo and across Humboldt County to place a sanctuary county law on the ballot in November. Saucedo and other undocumented immigrants feel that they can't trust local law enforcement to not communicate with ICE. Cities like Arcata, have previously passed an ordinance for Sanctuary last year, the county has yet to decide whether they'll follow suit. 

“Unless you have that guarantee under a sanctuary law that prohibits local law enforcement from collaborating or using their resources to aid ICE in someway, then immigrant communities are not going to trust those officials. They're not going to trust county employees, including law enforcement," Saucedo said. 

Humboldt County Sheriff Officer William "Billy" Honsal said the county is prepared to protect and care for immigrants, but that a sanctuary law would not necessarily be the best option, considering officers sometimes need ICE to help with the Humboldt County Drug Task Force or issues pertaining to serious criminal and violent offenses. 

"I know what people are trying to say. They want to give a statement on those people to feel safe, by declaring some kind of sanctuary. Because sanctuary, the word itself, really means safety, a safe place," Honsal said. "We cannot do that. It is a false sense of safety because I have no control over immigration. The people proposing this sanctuary language cannot really offer that. We cannot tell by waving a flag and saying 'we're sanctuary,' that immigration will not come here. They will still come here." 

Honsal said the sheriff's office doesn't communicate every crime to ICE, but they do however report dangerous or illicit activity to ICE if it means protecting residents of Humboldt County. Honsal adds that they don't target immigrants when they arrest people and that even if they do turn people over to ICE, it's because that person committed a violent or dangerous crime. The number of people on average, that the sheriff's office detained for ICE is still relatively small. 

"I think we only turned over one or two people last year to ICE from our jail. And the year before that was maybe two or three," Honsal said. 

Honsal said it's difficult for him to determine whether all undocumented immigrants are safe from being detained. 

"There is, and there always could be, a concern. I can't alleviate that. But let's talk about the risk. I think the risk is very very low because Immigration has a lot of bigger things to do. These people are busy and they're out, hopefully, going after criminals. Real criminals," Honsal said. 

For now, Centro del Pueblo is collecting signatures to place a ballot measure to make Humboldt County a place of sanctuary. If passed, it would mean local law enforcement would be prohibited from aiding and communicating with ICE agents unless the case involves a dangerous or violent crime. The organization has, according to the Times-Standard, already filed paperwork with the county elections office to begin circulating petitions.