The Paso Robles City Council voted unanimously on May 1 to take no official position on Senate Bill 54—the so-called "sanctuary" state law regulating local authorities' communication with federal immigration agents—following an emotional four-hour discussion.
Dozens of local residents—farmers, doctors, accountants, high school teachers and students, law enforcement retirees, activists, and even a gubernatorial candidate—voiced diverse opinions about the law and whether the city should join a burgeoning fight against it.
At a previous meeting on April 17, a majority of public speakers demanded that the city lock arms with places like Orange County and Newport Beach that have signed onto a federal lawsuit challenging SB 54. The City Council continued the hearing to May 1.
More residents showed up to the second meeting. Several immigrants, and a few undocumented youth enrolled in DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals), asked that the city support the immigrant community by supporting SB 54.
"Repealing SB 54 will interfere with our thriving town and its economy," said a DACA student at Paso Robles High School. "Immigrants who work in this community will be scared to take their children to school because they don't know if they'll come back. ... Immigrants are people, too, who have hearts."
Other residents backing SB 54 felt that the debate over the law pointed to underlying racial discrimination in the community.
"I will tell you that the experience of many, but not all, of minority children in the North County is not of inclusion but of exclusion, racism and at times pain," said a Paso mother of a Latina daughter who identified herself as a licensed psychologist. "This is not theoretical. This is something that local clinicians and human services providers see and hear on a daily basis."
Those opposed to SB 54 argued that their concern wasn't about immigrants generally, but immigrants who have committed crimes.
"We're protecting criminals. It's ridiculous," one speaker said. "People have suffered numerous crimes from people who have come into this country illegally and we're protecting them. I don't understand that."
After the public comment, the City Council decided not to take an official stance on the law, other than directing incoming Police Chief Ty Lewis to draft a letter to the state outlining its "flaws." The City Council didn't discuss in detail what it thought the flaws were. Lewis stated that SB 54 didn't have a "significant effect" on the department and recommended the city stay neutral.
"Anything that lets a criminal go and doesn't protect the citizens has some issue," Councilmember John Hamon said. "People who are not going to be here to make Paso Robles better need to be held accountable somehow when they fail that."
Expressing a similar sentiment, Councilmember Jim Reed felt the council should take a strong position against the law and "be involved in the discussion."
"Let's grab the bull by the horns and fix it," Reed said. "Let's do something about these stupid idiotic immigration laws."
Mayor Steve Martin and Councilmembers Fred Strong and Steve Gregory were opposed to using city resources to fight SB 54.
"I don't think this is our fight and I don't want to spend money," Gregory said. "If the law's a bad law, it'll get corrected. We can't do that as a community. What we can do is stick together, be a community, and respect each other." Δ