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Delano Second City In The Valley To Become A 'Sanctuary' For Undocumented Immigrants

Monica Velez
Valley Public Radio
A citizen speaks before the city council in favor of Delano becoming a sanctuary city.

The Delano City Council passed a resolution Monday night to become a sanctuary city. It's the second city in the San Joaquin Valley to do so following Livingston. 


The resolution says the city will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and any other immigration authority, which is consistent with the California Values Act, or SB-54, the state law that prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from working with ICE.


The council meeting was crowded and although a few residents opposed the resolution during the public comment period, the majority of people there asked the council to vote yes. 


Out of the five-person council, Mayor Joe Aguirre was the only person to vote no. He argued this was another example of the council taking funding away from the police department.


“We’re going to take away federal funding from law enforcement,” he said during the meeting, referring to a federal appeals court ruling in July to uphold the Trump administration's decision to give cities who cooperate with immigration authorities preferential treatment when it comes to funding.


“It’s not going to affect anything else but law enforcement,” Aguirre added. “I see a pattern. Are we trying to cripple our law enforcement agency from doing their job?”


However, in an interview with Valley Public Radio, Delano Police Chief Robert Nevarez said passing the sanctuary city resolution “absolutely” does not stop the department from doing its job.


“This in no way does anything to impair my department,” Nevarez said. “In fact over the last year, we’ve done a lot of events in educating the community. In all of these events, we reiterate our position over and over. We are not immigration officers, we do not assist ICE generally.”  


Nevarez said not only does he support SB-54, but the department has no option but to abide by it. The law is “very clear,” he said. 


“Anybody that’s familiar with the Delano Police Department and my position since I got here a year ago, is that we are not immigration officers,” Nevarez said. “We are sworn to enforce state and local laws, not federal laws.”


Aguirre also said passing this resolution would send a "false message" to the community because the city can't stop ICE from deporting people.


The residents who wanted Delano to become a sanctuary city said they were pleased with the vote.


“I feel more comfortable and more assured from our city now that our undocumented community here in Delano are not going to feel as scared and willing to go out of their houses and [will] continue contributing to the community and economy,” 19-year-old Hector Jiminez said. 


The last three paragraphs


In order for the resolution to pass, the last three paragraphs of the original resolution were struck. Those paragraphs included access for immigrants to educational material, like immigration resources and Know Your Rights information (cards that list people’s constitutional rights regardless of immigration status).


Another part of the resolution that was taken out at the last-minute said: “The city shall implement policies to effectuate the spirit and intent of this resolution.”


During the meeting, Councilman Joe Alindajao said he was concerned with the last three paragraphs and argued it's not the role of the city government to take “affirmative action” to help the immigrant community. 


“The role of city government is to legislate, to create an environment to promote health, safety, housing, wellness,” he said. “I wholly reject the fear-based arguments that have no basis in fact or empirical evidence from job loss to nuclear holocaust, I’m kidding, all these things that we tie to sanctuary status I don’t see any evidence for it.”  


During public comment, many residents disagreed with Alindajao, and said the fear and anxiety people feel are real, especially after a recent ICE arrest at the Delano courthouse in July. Just last week, businesses around the courthouse reported having fewer customers because of the recent ICE activity. 


Valerie Gorospe, the community coordinator for the Center On Race, Poverty and the Environment, also told Valley Public Radio last week the teens she works with have been sending her concerning text messages. 


 “One of the text messages asked me to go drive on Cecil Avenue and High Street to see if people were being deported and if there were ICE cars pulling people over,” Gorospe said. “She [the teenager] wanted to know if ICE was out on the streets of Delano because her mom wanted to get groceries for dinner that night. I dropped everything that I was doing and I drove over there.”


Alindajao said he sees the resolution as more symbolic. “We’re here simply to determine whether a resolution can have a psychological effect on communities, specifically the immigrant community, and I think it can” ease the fears of undocumented people, he said.


The people who opposed the resolution said they had concerns that becoming a sanctuary city would make Delano more of a target for ICE.


“I think SB-54, when it was passed, said it all,” said Steve Kinsey, a property manager in Delano. “Our police department and our law enforcement agency are not participating with ICE. I was afraid that when this passes that it almost puts a target on every illegal immigrant in our community.”


Councilmember Bryan Osorio, who brought the resolution to the council, said he was glad it passed but was disappointed the last three paragraphs were deleted because he wanted it to focus more on education.  


“It was going to reconfigure how we defined a sanctuary city,” Osorio said. “I wanted it to be a model for future cities. It’s not just about being symbolic but also educational.”

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.