Chula Vista explores embracing Welcoming City status


Chula Vista will not join the ranks of “sanctuary cities” in California, but the city council made it very clear that undocumented community members are welcome and will be protected.

Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, and councilmembers Patricia Aguilar and Stephen Padilla decided not to push for sanctuary city status, but directed staff to prepare an agenda item for its April 25 meeting to declare Chula Vista a “welcoming city.” By a 3-2 vote council also endorsed a state sanctuary bill.

After discussing an 18-page report regarding the city’s policies on immigration enforcement, the council majority agreed that city policies are as restrictive as can be in terms of cooperating with federal law in enforcing national immigration policies. Most sanctuary and welcoming cities forbid city police from enforcing immigration law, questioning people about citizenship status and turning people over to federal immigration authorities.

Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said public safety is the priority, not immigration. Kennedy said it is important that all members of the community are able to trust the CVPD and feel free to call local police to report crime.

Conservative councilmembers Mike Diaz and John McCann voted against considering the welcoming city option. Diaz expressed concern that the Trump Administration might withhold federal funding to Chula Vista.

Casillas Salas, Chula Vista’s first Latina mayor, said the term “sanctuary city” has caused confusion and misunderstanding.

“The word ‘sanctuary city’ has been distorted and politicized to the point that is only become polarizing and meaningless,” she said. “I don’t want to give people a sense of security or insecurity by declaring Chula Vista a sanctuary city.”

Senate Bill 54, the state sanctuary bill passed by the California State Senate earlier this month, is now being considered by the Assembly. The Sanctuary State bill would prohibit local law enforcement from enforcing immigration laws, or using resources to investigate or arrest people for immigration policies.

Chula Vista City Councilmembers will also vote on Casillas Salas’ proposal to join the “welcoming network.”

“Many of our residents feel a sense of anxiety by the ugly, divisive rhetoric coming from this new presidential administration,” Casillas Salas said. “That’s why I ask Chula Vista to join the Welcoming America Network, to demonstrate that we value our immigrant and refugee neighbors to help them become a vital part of our economic and civil society.”

Southwestern College has been out front of the immigrant issue and its governing board approved a strong resolution of support for undocumented students and assurances that

Immigration officials will not operate on campus without a warrant.

Trustee Roberto Alcantar urged the city council to follow in the college’s footsteps.

“We, as a college, decided to take action to protect our students,” he said. “We passed resolutions saying we will protect our students, we will not allow coordination with federal agencies without a warrant. I’ve heard people say that they don’t know anybody that is scared. If you don’t know anybody that is scared around you, then you need to check your privilege because it is the reality for millions of Americans right now that are terrified about what is happening in this country.”

SWC board unanimously passed a resolution to support a lawsuit against the Trump Administration by the city of San Francisco over a presidential executive order targeting sanctuary cities. Chula Vista’s council also discussed supporting the lawsuit.

Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order threatened to pull federal funds from local jurisdictions that do not aid in enforcing federal immigration laws.

Governing Board President Tim Nader, a California State Attorney, said it was legally problematic that the order does not clearly define a sanctuary jurisdiction.

“That order authorizes certain cabinet officials to take punitive action with certain jurisdictions that they subjectively consider to be sanctuary jurisdictions, whether the jurisdiction has so declared itself or not,” he said. “That could potentially include a jurisdiction that decides it has better uses for its police force than to act as surrogate ICE agents, like actually protecting people from crime.”

Nader also criticized the order’s vague language.

“I look at an executive order like that and I can’t really tell what his position is,” he said. “‘Sanctuary city’ or ‘sanctuary jurisdiction’ is not clearly defined, and that’s one of the very dangerous things about this type of executive order. When you don’t define things carefully in the law and you impose punitive measures, that is a tool of a totalitarian because it gives them an ability without fair notice, without due process, without regard to the civil rights of the citizens, to do whatever they choose, and that’s what we’re challenging here.”

As a result of the board’s vote, Nader will write a letter to the court on behalf of the board. Councilmember Padilla said he spoke with Nader regarding the amicus brief.

“We don’t get to decide if we are a sanctuary jurisdiction,” he said. “The secretary of Homeland Security gets to decide, based on our policies. Our policies for many years now severely restrict, only to the extent absolutely required, that we cooperate with immigration enforcement.”

National City and Imperial Beach have struggled over sanctuary city and welcoming city resolutions.

In February, the National City city council voted against a welcoming city resolution in a controversial 3-2 vote at a meeting where more than 40 members of the public spoke in favor of the resolution. Mayor Ron Morrison presented a substitute resolution that altered the language to remove the word “welcoming,” among other changes, to the dismay of supporters of the original resolution.

The substitute resolution passed 3-2.

Late last year, Imperial Beach Mayor Dr. Serge Dedina declared the city a welcoming city. He retracted the proclamation after community members spoke against the unilateral move at a city council meeting. Dedina said he should have put the matter to a vote of the council first.

“I am retracting the Welcoming City proclamation due to its policy directive that should have been subject to City Council, City staff and public review through a City Council resolution,” Dedina said in a statement.

Imperial Beach is scheduled to vote on the new “Welcoming City” resolution April 25.


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