While President Donald Trump and his administration are pushing the federal government to take a more hardline stance on undocumented immigrants, the city of SLO says it will continue its current policy of not directly enforcing federal immigration law.
Members of the City Council approved a resolution April 4 affirming a current directive that instructs city employees, including the SLO Police Department, not to use city resources or personnel to investigate, question, or apprehend individuals solely for immigration violations, unless required to by state or federal law.
In a written statement issued the day after the vote, SLO Police Chief Deanna Cantrell said the main goal of the city’s police department was to ensure the public’s safety.
“With that in mind, we don’t ask people their status—whether they are considered potential victims, witnesses, or suspects,” Cantrell said. “Of course, undocumented immigrants who commit serious and/or violent crimes should be subject to federal immigration laws, but our local police do not have the jurisdiction or legal authority to enforce immigration law.”
Because the policy has already been in place, the resolution will change little in the day-to-day operations for the city’s police officers, according to SLOPD Capt. Jeff Smith.
“It’s really in line with the policies we’ve had in the past,” Smith told New Times.
In his first few months in office, President Trump attempted to make good on his campaign promises to be tougher on undocumented immigrants. In January, Trump signed an executive order to deny federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” which stated that immigrants who enter the county illegally or overstay their visas were a “significant threat to national security and public safety.”
“Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” the executive order stated. “These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”
In its April 5 statement, SLO officials disputed that their policy would disqualify the city from receiving federal funds under Trump’s executive order.
“The executive order’s definition of ‘sanctuary city’ does not prohibit such local restrictions on the use of resources to inquire into, investigate, or collect immigration status information,” the statement said. “As a result, the city’s resolution does not direct any action that conflicts in any way with the federal law on which the executive order was based.”
The same executive order called for the federal government to make use of “all available systems and resources” to enforce immigration laws, as well as calling for the hiring of an additional 10,000 immigration enforcement officers and directing the federal government to empower local and state law enforcement agencies to perform immigration enforcement functions.
In the wake of the executive order, critics raised concerns that involving local law enforcement in immigration enforcement could discourage undocumented immigrants from coming forward as victims or to cooperate in criminal investigations. Smith said that while he’d not seen such reluctance in SLO firsthand, he’d heard from some community members and local activists that undocumented immigrants were more wary about contacting local police.
“There is concern that they might be asked about their status,” he said.