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Jessica Escobar said she was marching to support undocumented friends and family members. Photo taken January 21, 2017 at the Oakland Women's March by Rachel Loyd.

Bay Area officials support sanctuary cities, despite threats of federal cuts

on February 9, 2017

On January 25, President Donald Trump signed an executive order denying federal funds to sanctuary cities, such as Oakland and Richmond. Sanctuary cities do not cooperate with the federal government’s attempts to deport undocumented immigrants.

According to the executive order, titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.” As a result, Section 2C of the order states that the federal government’s responsibility is to “ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law.”

But Bay Area officials are pushing back and affirming the status of sanctuary cities.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf responded immediately in a joint press release with the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Berkeley. “The Bay Area stands united against this White House’s morally bankrupt policies that would divide families, turn our nation’s back on refugees in need, and potentially thwart the efforts of nearly one million productive young people who are on a legal path to citizenship,” Schaaf stated in the press release.

Erica Terry Derryck, Schaaf’s spokesperson, outlined how this order could affect Oakland economically. “The City of Oakland currently estimates that it receives $130 million in federal funding,” she said. “Approximately $90 million is one-time funds, or money that is already allocated, but may not yet have been drawn down. This is the stream of funding that is not likely to be affected by any action taken by the Trump administration. The approximately $40 million in ongoing funding, of which Head Start represents $18 million, is much more likely to be in play.”

Head Start is a program operated by Oakland’s Human Services Department, which aims to encourage social skills in children, aged three to five, from low-income families, to prepare them for school.

Similarly, Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan (at-large), said that it’s uncertain which funds could be affected. “We have not yet received any federal updates about removing any specific funds, nor any estimates of how much money, or which specific grants, they plan to threaten,” she said.

“I do support Oakland being a sanctuary city, and I have, throughout the years, supported Oakland acting ethically and in a manner that protects and defends our communities, even when federal officials do not act accordingly,” she continued.

Oakland’s Congressional Representative, Barbara Lee, also released a statement in response to the order: “My district is home to four proud sanctuary cities: Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda and Emeryville,” she wrote. “I refuse to allow the Trump administration to intimidate my constituents. As a member of the Appropriations Committee I will fight tooth and nail to prevent funding for these misguided, anti-immigrant policies.”

In November, anticipating challenges from the new administration, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt released a statement saying, “Threats from the president-elect are causing apprehensions among both immigrants and undocumented individuals about their safety and security living and working in the U.S.”

“The City of Richmond joins many “Sanctuary Cities” nationwide in providing a significant measure of security and protection for immigrants and undocumented persons living and working in the City of Richmond,” the statement continued. “The [Richmond] City Council has made it clear that it is not the City’s job to enforce federal immigration law. Protecting our immigrant community is a foundation of community policing that makes Richmond a safer place for all our residents.”

And last week, in response to Trump’s immigration ban executive order, he released another statement saying, “Richmond is a city comprised of a multi-ethnic, multi-national, and multi-cultural community that holds diversity and inclusion as core values. As Mayor I can think of no reason our city would benefit from turning away and discriminating against refugees as well as the many other immigrants that come to work and live in our community.”

Speaking by phone this week, his chief of staff, Alex Knox, said, “We do not believe the federal government or the president has a legitimate reason to withhold or restrict funding granted to our city in response to policies we have adopted to protect and support our immigrant community.”

He also emphasised there is a lot of uncertainty about the potential outcomes of the order, and it has not yet been identified which current or future funding could be restricted or eliminated from the city budget. But, Knox said, they are working closely with the Cities for Action coalition and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier’s office on the matter.

Richmond City Councilmember Eduardo Martinez also spoke out for sanctuary cities. “Sanctuary cities are a way that we can make up for all of the chaos we have created in the countries that these people are coming from,” he said. “Our government has destabilized so many foreign governments and destroyed so many countries that of course people are seeking sanctuary. It just makes sense that we do our part in helping to correct a lot of the human pain that we caused around the world and we can do that in a small part by hosting families who have suffered political persecution [and] economic instability.”

Martinez agreed that there is still uncertainty about how much—or which—city funding could be affected. “Right now we don’t know how many federal funds we’re talking about.  We don’t know what areas. The only federal funds I can think of right off hand would be federal funds to housing,” he said.

Both Oakland and Richmond have long histories as sanctuary cities.

In 1990, Richmond approved policies to limit the city’s response to requests for “Information, Assistance or Cooperation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the United States Department of Justice” (now Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE).

In 2007, the Richmond City Council adopted Resolution 11-07 which reaffirmed the city’s commitment to not “informing, assisting or cooperating” with ICE.

Oakland first adopted sanctuary city status in 1986 and again with a unanimous city council resolution in November, 2016, in the wake of early indications from Trump that he might withhold federal funds, reiterating the city’s commitment to being safe for undocumented immigrants.

That month, Schaaf released a statement that said: “Oaklanders can rest assured that our government will continue to protect all its residents and defend our progressive values. … We’ll proudly stand as a sanctuary city—protecting our residents from what we deem unjust federal immigration laws—fight all forms of bigotry and advance our commitment to equity even more passionately.”

According to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, over half a million undocumented immigrants live in the Bay area, with 124,000 in Alameda County alone. Defunding cities such as Oakland and Richmond could threaten the security of undocumented immigrants living within those communities.

Eleonore Zwinger, an immigration attorney at the International Institute of the Bay Area’s (IIBA) Oakland office, explained how the sanctuary city status of Oakland helps to protect its residents from deportation. In a city like Oakland she said, police officers who pull over drivers do not ask them for their immigration status, and if they suspect a person is here illegally, they do not contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “But Trump wants to change this with the executive order. He wants regular police officers also to become immigration officers, so to speak,” Zwinger said.

“I would trust the officials … when they say that Oakland will stay a sanctuary city, that they have really thought this through about what potential consequences that would be [if this status was removed] and I hope that it holds. It’s a good protection, but it’s not a complete protection either,” Zwinger said.

On January 31, San Francisco, also a historic sanctuary city, sued Trump over his executive order, arguing it is unconstitutional. The suit was filed by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who claims the executive order is unconstitutional as it exceeds the executive branch’s power.

In a press release, Herrera stated: “The president’s executive order is not only unconstitutional, it’s un-American. …That is why we must stand up and oppose it. We are a nation of immigrants and a land of laws. We must be the ‘guardians of our democracy’ that President Obama urged us all to be in his farewell address.”

Other cities and states, such as Boston, Colorado and Texas, have all launched lawsuits over the immigration executive order.
Martinez said Richmond should support the San Francisco lawsuit. “There is strength in numbers and since we have the same sensibilities [as the city of San Francisco], in terms of sanctuary cities, it only makes sense that we join them in this lawsuit,” he said.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker wrote in a statement sent via email: “The order is cruel, ridiculous and illegal on its face, which is apparently the standard operating procedure for Trump and his entourage of incompetent lackeys,” she wrote. “This would harm everyone in Oakland, mostly children who would suffer from losing Head Start and lead abatement funding, among other services.”

“It’s clear that he doesn’t get that being a sanctuary city helps law enforcement to solve and prevent crimes. It makes everyone in our city safer, citizens and non-citizens alike. This is a good example of why we should never elect openly racist, mentally unstable buffoons to any office in this country, let alone the presidency,” she continued. “Yes, it is morally defensible to defy immoral orders. That idea is established in law and in our national conscience.”

This story was updated on February 10 to include a statement issued by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt on November 18 2016 and February 3 2017.


  1. […] immigration policies—including his proposal to build a border wall and a recent Executive Order (covered in-depth by RichCon’s Lizzie Roberts) banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries—are reminiscent of the abuses of […]

  2. Giorgio Cosentino on March 6, 2017 at 5:43 am

    Isn’t there a more legal option of helping those from countries we share responsibility for destabilizing? I agree with Mr. Martinez that we do share this responsibility. From a safety standpoint, the concept of a “sanctuary city” causes me great concern. We are encouraging people to break the law. We heard about the killing of the young woman in SF by someone here illegally.

    Instead of sanctuary cities, we should be accepting more refugees or immigrants from any country we destabilize, via a LEGAL process. As an American citizen, if I break any of our laws, I am held accountable, no forgiveness. Why the double standard?

    From what I have observed, the extreme liberal left have big hearts, which I commend them for, but they do not view safety the way I do. I think of the safety of my family, my friends, and myself. I put our safety before defending the concept of a sanctuary city.

    I propose adopting legislation that says that prior to dropping bombs on any country, or any other effort for purpose of destabilizing their government, that we first establish a large amount of housing and services for those we know who will be seeking refuge here. Again, I agree with Mr. Martinez, that we share this responsibility.

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