Words matter. The word "sanctuary" isn't found in Santa Fe's policy, but a resolution unanimously adopted on Wednesday affirms and strengthens the city's approach to the treatment of immigrants.
Seven city councilors, plus Major Javier Gonzales, voted for the resolution, which includes provisions to expand language access services and prohibit Santa Fe from enrolling in "e-verify," a federal program that crosschecks employee information with Department of Homeland Security databases. (Councilor Peter Ives was absent on a trip to Washington DC.)
The new policy also reaffirms Santa Fe's commitment to being a "welcoming community" for immigrants and refugees.
"You guys all have the power to change our lives," said Neison López, an immigrant, addressing councilors before the resolution passed.
"Tomorrow we become stronger as a community. It reaffirms my belief that Santa Fe is family," said Mayor Gonzales, like many others in the room, with tears in his eyes. "We look out for one another."
The room erupted in cheers with each vote in favor of the resolution. "Si se puede!" chanted a group of elated supporters in the back of the room, as they jumped in a huddle.
Wednesday evening’s vote comes the day after President Donald Trump unveiled a plan to ramp up deportations, which vastly expands the definition of “criminal alien” and encourages local police officers to help federal deportation authorities. Former president Barack Obama, whose administration deported more than 2 million undocumented immigrants, focused on violent offenders.
By approving the sanctuary resolution,
ouncil capped off a months-long saga tinged with political bickering. Councilor Michael Harris earlier this month offered an alternate resolution that reaffirmed the city’s “commitment to the rule of law” and highlighted stats showing sanctuary cities have lower crime rates.
Harris introduced his proposal after criticizing Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the immigrant advocacy organization, for flooding a town hall in his district, an action he described as "hijacking."
But the dueling resolutions seemed to merge this weekend. SFR spotted Harris working on the proposal with fellow councilors Joseph Maestas and Renee Villarreal at a coffee shop. Harris' suggestions were folded into the resolution Wednesday night through an amendment unanimously approved by the body.
The drumbeat towards tonight's vote kicked off shortly after Trump's victory on election night, which raised fears that the vehemently anti-immigrant president will carry out his plan to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.
Mayor Gonzales became something of a national figure, appearing on cable news networks defending Santa Fe's immigration policies during final months of President Obama's administration.
The vote followed an emotional public comment session, which have become routine for every committee meeting on this resolution. As they did for previous meetings, supporters wore yellow fliers pinned to their t-shirts with the message: "Sanctuary = A Stronger City For All."
Lawyers, religious leaders, educators, advocates, public officials, business owners and immigrants all spoke in favor of the resolution. Locals filled the council chambers to capacity, spilling out into the hallway.
"I invite you to visit our schools and let the children know this town embraces them," said Miguel Acosta, a family and community engagement specialist at Santa Fe Public Schools. "This is my kind of town."
"Lately they've been very scared," said Allegra Love, an immigration lawyer, of her clients. "And your decision will go a long way to make them feel safer and loved in a country that has turned against them."
"This is a 'We the People' moment in America, and you have made Santa Fe a part of that," said Walter Friedenberg.
Former Santa Fe mayor David Coss also showed up to support the resolution, as he has done during previous public comment sessions, choking up during his address to the council.
"I was just gonna leave it to the younger generation and go fishing," Coss told SFR. "But times are too serious. We need to resist, and I've been greatly encouraged by who is participating."