On April 9, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to re-examine the county’s sanctuary policy. Spurred by the murder of a local citizen — a tragic crime, but one the proposed changes would not have prevented — the supervisors will now consider allowing local police to contact ICE when an undocumented immigrant with a history of serious crime is released from jail.
This change may seem like no big deal, but with anti-immigrant sentiment inflamed throughout the United States, and the trust of immigrants in our institutions justifiably low, now is not the time to weaken current protections for our immigrant neighbors.
Maintaining the strength of our sanctuary laws sends a message of community solidarity, reinforcing that we share a common goal: that immigrants are valued and fully invested members of our communities. Ideally, all of us could work together with local police to make our communities better. That’s one of the reasons sanctuary policies exist. Anyone who views local police as a threat or the enemy is less likely to come forward as a crime reporter or witness.
ICE has already shown a lack of respect for due process laws and basic humanity with their actions in our community. ICE has raided workplaces and homes, taken people from their families and have held them indefinitely in detention centers. Any concession to ICE, at this point, represents a betrayal of our immigrant neighbors and our community values, weakening trust in our institutions at a time when that trust has already been eroded by the words and actions of our federal government.
The proposed sanctuary changes, meanwhile, promise little upside in exchange for a vast downside.
Proponents encourage the perception that violent criminals are simply released into our communities, but this is not the case. People convicted of serious crimes are sent to prison and, if released, placed under supervision. What little we might gain in perceived safety by deporting, rather than supervising, a very small number of released undocumented prisoners, far outweighs what we stand to lose if immigrants feel increasingly unsafe cooperating with local police.
In the words of Susan Ellenberg, the lone supervisor who voted against the proposal: “This hard-earned trust may be broken by enacting a policy that will not measurably improve public safety. And we will be distracted from the questions that need to be addressed,” such as criminal justice reform that supports the safe reintegration of all released prisoners. The need for such reform is real, but targeting immigrants for deportation is a non-solution attempting to pose as one.
Santa Clara County is a place that has long welcomed and celebrated immigrants. The varied cultural histories of countless immigrant groups that settled and thrived here provide richness and depth to our shared experience. The vibrant diversity of our modern community is the heart of the excitement and vitality of the South Bay.
These long-held Santa Clara values are codified in our laws, including our robust sanctuary policies. Within our immigrant communities, where the threats are real and the fear is justified, our sanctuary laws have come to represent far more than what they say on paper — they symbolize a promise to protect our immigrant neighbors as best as we can. In the current political climate, characterized by a weaponized ICE and dangerous, inflammatory, racist rhetoric, these promises have already been strained. We cannot allow any more needless backsliding.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors must take a stand, and keep our sanctuary laws as strong as they were intended to be.
Roberts is a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice. She lives in San Jose.