Basseri: Don’t change Santa Clara County’s sanctuary policy
Photo courtesy of SIREN.

One of the many reasons I am proud to be a native San Josean is because there seems to be a place for everyone here, no matter where you come from.

The innovation that’s made our city world-famous trickles down to me and I believe in our collective humanity and possibility. That’s why it’s essential that the 655,000 immigrants in Santa Clara County feel safe. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is very active here, flagrantly ignoring due process and detaining 7,000 immigrants in our county in 2017 alone. So we can’t ever eliminate that fear.

But our county sanctuary policy has helped ease these fears by preventing more detentions and deportations, and we need to keep it in place as is.

Santa Clara County has been a leader in protecting immigrants since 2011, when supervisors passed a strong sanctuary policy to limit local law enforcement collaboration with ICE.

But over and over, anti-immigrant forces have tried to repeal the policy and make it harder for immigrants to trust government. This time, they’re using one undocumented man’s actions in the killing of Bambi Larson to justify a backlash against our immigrant neighbors.

After the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on April 9 to open up discussion on the policy, with Supervisor Susan Ellenberg objecting, the mayor and police chief urged changes to the policy at a Public Safety Community meeting that my councilmember Pam Foley hosted at John Muir Middle School last Monday.

I attended the meeting, similar to one held in March, and there were plenty of moments where I felt uncomfortable.

First, Councilmember Foley began the meeting with the presumption that we were all gathered to denounce our county’s current policy of eliminating collaboration with ICE, which was not true of many of us in the crowd and in her district.

After the long introduction, people started yelling jarring phrases like “get a gun” and “build a wall.” The mayor responded by encouraging those folks to lobby the Board of Supervisors to change the sanctuary policy. The mayor says he supports immigrants, but he let all those comments fly without condemning them.

By aligning themselves with anti-immigrant forces trying to repeal the policy, Mayor Liccardo and Chief Eddie Garcia are undoing their own hard work to build trust in our neighborhoods to improve public safety.

Beyond the fact that the proposed amendment by Supervisors Wasserman and Cortese would NOT have applied to this case nor prevented Bambi Larson’s death, as Supervisor Ellenberg noted in her statement on April 9, I find it impossible for my supervisors to ask for my good faith that ICE will operate humanely and within the law, when they have proven over and over to disregard due process and human rights.

Neither of these notions were brought up or challenged by Mayor Liccardo, Supervisor Wasserman or Chief Garcia when they had the floor.

In addition to being undocumented, the suspect in Larson’s death also struggles with mental illness and drug addiction and was unhoused. We all know that our housing crisis has pushed many of our neighbors into unlivable and unimaginable situations. We can’t solve the housing crisis in one measure, but we should respond to tragedies by addressing their underlying issues and add more muscle to our stretched mental health services instead of targeting immigrants.

As a Jewish American, I have a sharpened sense of racial scapegoating and this proposed policy, designed to keep me safer, makes me feel less safe. I commend Supervisor Ellenberg for her principled stance at the urging of many local clergy, residents and law professionals to oppose collaboration with ICE, and I urge her colleagues to do the same.

Elisheva Basseri is a lifelong Bay Area resident, event planner and mother of two. She is the wife to and a daughter of immigrants.

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