On Jun. 19, the National City Council voted unanimously to adopt a Compassionate City resolution in support of its immigrants. While no one opposed the designation, the special meeting was a re-hearing on the issue that follows a lawsuit.
In a city with nearly 25,000 immigrants and refugees — two out of every five residents — words matter, even if they can't stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"Many families are living daily with fear," said National City resident Felicia Cantu at the meeting.
Terms matter to city officials, too. Even before the legal tussle, former mayor Nick Inzunza in 2006 had declared the city a "sanctuary city," meaning it limits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement efforts. But no vote was taken, and Councilmember Ron Morrison, the current mayor, argued that Inzunza couldn't just declare it all by himself. Flash forward to Feb. 2017, and it was Morrison, acting alone.
Alliance San Diego had asked the city to adopt a "welcoming community" resolution, as several other local cities have done. On Feb. 7, as the council prepared to vote on a welcoming resolution, Mayor Morrison quietly substituted it for a weaker version the council then passed, 3-2.
San Diegans for Open Government and Chris Shilling filed a lawsuit against the city, citing the lack of staff or public input.
From that sprung a council vote on Jun. 6 to hold the special meeting on Jun. 19 — to re-hear the original "welcoming" resolution and Morrison's substituted version. The council was asked to consider sanctuary city designation and support for Senate Bill 54, which bars state and local resources being used for federal deportation efforts. Critics of the bill, including some San Diego politicians, see it as a threat to public safety, saying it could block efforts to catch violent offenders.
The council agreed to support SB 54, which is folded into the adopted resolution. Unlike Morrison's version, the final resolution states that city services are accessible to all residents, regardless of immigration status.
And it restricts local police from enforcing federal civil immigration law, or using city funds and resources to investigate or apprehend people who may have only violated civil immigration laws. But a resolution is not law.
With one National City family recently parted by border agents, residents might find more comfort in the state bill, as some speakers at the meeting suggested. (Rosenda Perez, the mother, has been released after posting bail; her husband, Francisco Duarte, is still in custody — neither were charged with crimes or had a criminal record).
Paula Hall, Sweetwater Union High School district board vice president, said the strong language will help students, and that a large number of them are affected. But she suggested adding language from a 2011 Homeland Security memo "that clearly states that certain areas are considered safe areas," she said — schools being one of them.
The council left that language out since SB 54 is part of the resolution. While 54 has yet to pass, on the day of the meeting, the bill was amended to strengthen the anti-deportation language.
"Don't leave here thinking people have extra protection," the mayor said. "They do not. We still can't control ICE."