The five members of the Selma City Council last week were like a football team weighing its options on an important play.
Do you go heart-and-soul with a bold, risky move, knowing it could come back to bite you? Or do you play it up-the-middle safe to minimize the risk of losing yards? Their decision? Punt.
At issue was a proposed resolution declaring Selma to be not a “sanctuary” city but a “community that respects the dignity of all people.”
And who could not agree with that wording, right? Turns out, quite a few folks took issue with the resolution explaining the relationship between the city and federal immigration enforcers.
Some in the jam-packed council chambers thought it was not emphatic enough. Others thought it was too financially risky. In the end, the five member panel tabled the resolution for 60 days. They're letting it percolate, marinate and vegetate.
What will change in 60 days? Maybe a lot, maybe nothing. With the volatile national political scene — a president vowing to punish cities that don’t follow immigration law, followed by pushback lawsuits — it might take years to figure out the right angle in the immigration battle.
Immigration and irrigation have a lot in common in California. Both are incredibly complex issues that have been hot-button topics forever, and neither offers an easy answer.
On Aug. 7, the City Council was told by its attorney that it could be in jeopardy of losing out on millions of federal dollars for designating Selma as “sanctuary” or “welcome” city.
Or maybe not. No one really knows what is going to happen, but as threats go, it is an effective one. The scariest threats are about what MIGHT happen, not what WILL happen, and Selma’s leadership panel decided it couldn’t take that risk. Ideals are fine and dandy, but money talks.
As hot topics go, immigration touches all the bases: Public safety, politics, family values, diversity, funding.
At issue is how much cooperation a city police force should afford to federal immigration agencies. “Sanctuary” cities refuse to comply with the Feds to detain or incarcerate someone longer than they should so immigration officers can pay a visit. And they choose not to use city/county money or manpower to check out the immigration status of those they come into contact with.
“Welcome” cities dial down that resistance a bit by not expressly prohibiting officers and city employees from cooperating with Federal agents.
Selma’s resolution dialed that down a bit more. It proposed that cops and city officials not “volunteer” information on a person’s immigration status while providing a city service or performing a law enforcement function — unless a county, state or federal agency requests that information.
That was good enough for some in last week’s audience. It was not good enough for others who spoke passionately about the effects of deportation on families and the fear of being entangled in the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) web.
They packed the council chambers with pleas — in Spanish and English — that focused on religious compassion and family togetherness. Father Guadalupe Rios from St. Joseph's Church offered a passioned plea that asked whether the city stands “with the oppressors or the oppressed.” (The “oppressors,” in this case, being the current White House administration.)
Council members pledged compassion, but they are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place: Maintaining the trust of their citizens vs. possible loss of millions of dollars in federal funds.
Fear is a powerful motivator. One man is fearful of being separated from his family. Another is fearful of his city being separated from a much-needed money source.
How realistic those fears are is up for debate. Police Chief Greg Garner said Selma has never had any police detainee deported in the four years he has been in charge. And Selma has no jail, which transfers that issue to Fresno County.
At the other end, the ability of the Feds to deny funds to cities, counties or states that violate immigration policies likely will be decided by the courts. The same day the Selma City Council was wrestling with its resolution, the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Government about that very issue.
And last Friday, an immigration appeals court threw out the final deportation order of a Los Angeles man whose arrest by ICE, after dropping off his daughter at school, drew national attention.
Remember our original football analogy? Maybe that punt wasn’t such a bad idea. Folks on one side of this issue asked the council to revisit its resolution to make it stronger. Others have expressed the opinion that there is no reason at all for such a resolution.
But like water, public safety, air pollution and high-speed rail, immigration is an issue that promises to not go away. See you at the City Council meeting in 60 days.