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Steven Hsieh

Stepping Toward Sanctuary

Nearly 200 Santa Feans packed the council chambers to support sanctuary

February 13, 2017, 8:25 pm

Following an emotional and lengthy public comment session, the city Finance Committee on Monday advanced a resolution that would reaffirm and strengthen policies protecting undocumented immigrants.

The proposal comes amid threats from President Donald Trump to withhold federal funding from so-called "sanctuary cities,” a nonlegal term typically referring to jurisdictions like Santa Fe that don’t contribute local resources to assisting federal deportation authorities.  

The resolution, which was put together with significant input from immigrant advocates and lawyers, moved unanimously through the five member committee. Sponsored by councilors Joseph Maestas and Renee Villarreal, the proposal reaffirms a 1999 ordinance that effectively made Santa Fe a sanctuary city. 

Yet the resolution isn’t just symbolic. It would also strengthen the existing law, prohibiting city employees from disclosing identifying confidential information of community members. It would also increase language access services and develop official policies to process special visas for immigrants who become victims of crimes.

Fire Marshal Reynaldo Gonzales says nearly 200 members of the public filled the council chambers this evening, exceeding the room’s capacity and forcing overflow into a hallway. Speakers unanimously supported the proposal.

Citing inclement weather, committee chair Carmichael Dominguez reduced each speaker's time limit from the usual two minutes to one. His effort proved doomed from the beginning. “Wrap it up,” he said to one speaker who went overtime. 

Dominguez also implored the crowd to hold applause until the end of the night, prompting supporters to wave their fingers in the air after each speaker stepped away from the podium. 

“I just ask that you work with us and collaborate to ensure all our children and family feel safe in our schools,” said Veronica Garcia, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools. 

Araceli Lara, a 15-year-old whose parents immigrated from Mexico 15 years ago said, “If Santa Fe continues to be a sanctuary city, it shows we are not forgotten.”

Locals pinned yellow fliers to their t-shirts and jackets, bearing the message, "Sanctuary = A Stronger City For All.” Somos Un Pueblo Unidos, the immigrant advocacy organization, provided wireless headphone devices for translation services.

The resolution is scheduled to be heard next by the Public Safety Committee on Feb. 21, before finally coming under consideration by the full Governing Body on Feb. 22. 

Before casting his vote, Councilor Michael Harris addressed an alternate sanctuary proposal he introduced Friday, which includes statistics showing that sanctuary jurisdictions have lower crime rate and also offers assurances as to Santa Fe’s “commitment to the established rule of law."

He said he supported tonight’s resolution, currently in its third draft, after assurances by Maestas and Villarreal that they would consider additions to their proposal. He also criticized Somos' participation in a town hall meeting he held in his district, encompassing the southwest portion of the city. "Many people used the word 'hijacked,'" he said. 

Representatives from Somos didn't seem impressed by Harris' proposal. "It's very short and a lot of the aspects are already incorporated in the community resolution," says Gabriela Ibañez Guzman, staff attorney for Somos.

Somos circulated a press release earlier in the week naming the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association and Santa Fe Neighborhood Law Center among supporters for the project, as well as leading Albuquerque civil rights firm, Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, PA. Last week, The New Mexican reported that Santa Fe City Attorney Kelley Brennan sought and was granted permission to explore partnerships with other organizations considering a lawsuit against the federal government. 

 

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