Some cities around California and the country have been declaring themselves as sanctuary cities, claiming a type of social and seemingly lawful refuge from Immigration and Customs Enforcement - or ICE - agents. Last week the Soledad City Council voted unanimously to officially establish the city as a safe haven. But other cities, and police departments, are more concerned with the safety of all than political assertions.
David Minsky, a reporter from the Santa Maria Sun, has been reporting on the state of cities in northern Santa Barbara County and how they're navigating these issues of illegal immigration. Minsky spoke with city officials in Lompoc and Santa Maria, who are generally avoiding claiming sanctuary city status. But they are also not taking specific steps to work with ICE agents on operations. Minsky spoke with KCBX News via phone.
ZENDER: Can you tell me more about the cities' stances, or rather lack thereof, on illegal immigration and how they handle it locally?
MINSKY: The local police departments here...It's not that they're not cooperating with ICE, it’s that they are simply stating that they don't enforce federal immigration laws. They have limited resources. And so they don't want to spend the resources doing something that another agency ought to be doing. And I think that's their main position on this.
ZENDER: Right, like the Los Angeles Police Department...they routinely do joint operations with ICE. [Northern Santa Barbara County cities] are not doing that and they don't have the resources to do that?
MINSKY: And it's not that they don't want to work with ICE, they do when it comes to taking down people who have committed serious crimes like violent crimes. I think that is what they are most concerned about.
ZENDER: You talk a bit in your piece about the definition of a sanctuary city and how it's more of a political statement than a legal term. Can you talk a little bit more about that and what that means?
MINSKY: Sure. Yes. So what I've learned is that there is no legal definition of sanctuary city, but everyone that I talked to on and off the record - mostly off the record - they say that the term is more like a political term. It appears that it's something that jurisdictions do to tell their local undocumented population that hey, we're not going to come after you or turn you over to ICE. As a matter of fact, you're safe here. It turns out that the origins of this term sanctuary, it looks like it originated from Berkeley. Berkeley passed a resolution back in 1971 designating itself as a sanctuary city in order to protect U.S. Navy sailors who didn't want to deploy to the Vietnam War, which as you know, was highly controversial back then.
ZENDER: And do you think police departments here locally are kind of avoiding that political stance or claiming a political stance about that?
MINSKY: In my opinion yes. They are supposed to be apolitical organizations. You know it's a little bit different for a sheriff, a sheriff is a politician if they are elected, but even still it seems like they're more concerned about providing security for everybody, and not just for people who are here illegally, as I found out through the many heads of law enforcement that I interviewed. The one consistent thing between all of them is that they are more concerned about the crimes that are committed against undocumented peoples, rather than undocumented peoples themselves committing a crime by merely being undocumented. So they're more concerned about the safety of all rather than just a select group.
ZENDER: David Minsky is a reporter for the Santa Maria Sun. His report on the relationship between ICE agents and police departments in northern Santa Barbara County is on newsstands now.