SELMA – The city of Selma has a new police immigration policy that addresses concerns raised by residents at two previous meetings.

“We expanded the language to talk about how we treat individuals without regard to a number of factors,” Selma Police Chief Greg Garner said at the end of a pre-council meeting Sept. 18.

Members of a social justice group with St. Joseph’s Catholic Church previously came to two city council meetings asking that Selma be deemed a ‘welcoming city.’ This would prevent local police from reporting undocumented immigrants to Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials except under certain conditions.

Garner said a person’s immigration status had previously been a non-issue for the city’s police force since immigration violations are civil violations and are handled at the federal level.

“So we just clarified that in our policy. We also added language that included sexual orientation, gender identification or expression, economic status, cultural groups and disabilities. All of that was not in our original policy,” he said.

Prior to this September city council meeting, Garner said he met with members of the social justice group to clarify the department’s policy.

“After we met, they understood changes were made and felt there was no need to go further for a petition for a welcoming city because the trust issues they voiced initially were taken care of by our conversations,” he said.

Marlene Perez, a member of the social justice group, said they appreciated the chief’s willingness to hear their concerns.

“The changes outlined by the chief have restored a sense of confidence and trust within our community. We believe Selma now has the strongest police department policy regarding immigration in the Central Valley,” Perez said. “We believe the changes will help build trust between the city and the community, specifically changes that ensure ICE isn’t contacted without a judicial warrant and without the direct approval of the supervisor.

Garner said he will continue talks with the group to address immigration concerns and other issues as they arise.

“I think the most important part of this is we’ve agreed to talk in the future so if they ever have any other concerns regarding this or other issues, we can have a frank discussion.”

Councilman Louis Franco encouraged those in the audience to be aware of their rights under new state laws regarding immigration reporting in Senate Bill 54. The bill become law Sept. 20 and repeals the requirement that arresting agencies notify immigration officials if officers believe a person who has been arrested is not a legal immigrant.

“I’d suggest you get to know your rights under those new laws moving forward,” Franco said.

Perez said since this was the first time most of the immigrants have ever visited a City Council meeting, they weren’t aware of the opportunity to address the council.

“Before, none of them ever came to City Hall. Now, they know they have three minutes to speak if they have a concern. So many of them didn’t know they could do that. They actually know they have a voice now.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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