At the urging of a group of local residents, the Menlo Park City Council is expected to consider tonight (Jan. 24) a proposal to name Menlo Park a "sanctuary city."
A staff report released Jan. 19 asked the council for guidance on whether the staff should write an ordinance naming Menlo Park a "sanctuary city" or a resolution to name it a "welcoming city."
In December, a group of Menlo Park residents asked the council to consider an ordinance barring city staff (including the police department) from helping federal law enforcement officials investigate those suspected of immigrating to the U.S. illegally – making Menlo Park, by definition, a "sanctuary city."
Jen Mazzon of Menlo Park, who is part of a group of local residents calling itself "Radical Resilience," urged the council to pass an ordinance making Menlo Park a "sanctuary city."
The Menlo Park Police Department has a written policy on how it deals with undocumented immigrants (see below), but Ms. Mazzon said the council should pass an ordinance that lays out more explicitly the protocols city staff would follow. The idea of a "sanctuary city" ordinance, she said, is to make a statement and give people "confidence that they can expect services without having their citizenship or immigration status questioned."
She modeled a draft ordinance on San Francisco's law, which says that no city funds or resources may be used to help or cooperate with federal immigration investigations or surveillance. City staff would be forbidden from asking for, or giving information about anyone's immigration status, and could not use immigration status as a basis for giving city services. Those rules would not apply to someone who has been convicted of a felony.
It should be an ordinance rather than a resolution, she said, because an ordinance is enforceable: violating it could be a misdemeanor.
Such an ordinance would be enforced based on complaints reviewed by a commission, such as San Francisco's Human Rights Commission, or since Menlo Park doesn't have such a commission, perhaps the City Council, Ms. Mazzon said.
"I think that city employees should not try to do federal immigration officials' jobs for them," she said.
Ms. Mazzon reported to the council the results of an online survey she conducted: of 88 responses by people who identified themselves as Menlo Park residents, 79 percent favored the "consideration of a sanctuary ordinance for Menlo Park" and 21 percent opposed it, she said.
Menlo Park police do not investigate someone on the sole suspicion that the person immigrated to the U.S. illegally, according to Menlo Park Police Commander Dave Bertini.
That said, he added, the police department is expected to make a good-faith effort to verify the identification of those arrested and suspected of criminal activity. People show identity with an ID card or license, but if they are suspected of lying about their identity, they can be booked for a misdemeanor, he said.
During traffic and pedestrian stops, a person can have his or her name run through warrant databases, he said. Then, if there is a warrant out for that person, whether due to illegal immigration or another crime, Menlo Park police may book that person into jail.
According to a staff report, in the last three years, the Menlo Park Police Department has arrested two subjects on warrants from ICE, the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. Both times, suspects were stopped or detained for other violation before their names were run through warrant databases and officers learned they were wanted for immigration violations, the report said.
"Regardless of what the city comes up with, we're not immune to federal law," said Cmdr. Bertini.
The Menlo Park "Radical Resilience" group started when about 15 to 20 Willows residents met shortly after the presidential election to talk about what they can do to ensure the protection of people – especially Muslims and undocumented immigrants – who may be threatened by President Donald Trump's proposed policies, according to Patrick Daly, a participant in the meeting. The urgency for action, Ms. Mazzon said, stems from the rhetoric of President Trump.
"(The group) was absolutely catalyzed by the election results, no doubt about that," she said.
President Trump's campaign platform proposed deporting undocumented immigrants, with an emphasis on those who have criminal records, building a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico and eliminating sanctuary city policies.
Asking the council to make Menlo Park a "sanctuary city" was one matter the group of Willows residents agreed on.
Nobody who attended the group's second meeting was an undocumented immigrant, but several there knew people who could be affected by harsher immigration enforcement.
Gwyn Murray, who organized the Willows neighborhood meeting, said she has worked as a mentor to Menlo-Atherton High School students who came to the U.S. illegally as minors. Those students are now in college or working, she said, because of policies such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order by President Barack Obama that President Trump could reverse.
The group talked about other actions it could take: Donate to national nonprofits. Volunteer in local schools. Talk to people who are part of the group they're seeking to protect. Join a book club that has pledged to read dystopian novels to spur thinking about how societies can go wrong.
The group had 145 members of Jan. 18, Ms. Murray said.
Another anti-discrimination measure, one proposed by Councilman Ray Mueller, is a citywide ban on creating any form of religious registry.
City staff recommended the council introduce an ordinance prohibiting city funds or resources from being used to make a database or identify individuals based on their religious beliefs, race or nation of descent.
Ms. Keith added she supports a ban on "any other unfounded registry."
"We must protect everyone," she said.
City staff also recommended the council on Jan. 24 adopt a resolution stating Menlo Park's commitment to a "diverse, supportive, inclusive and protective" community.
Mayor Keith added that this year, she would also like to pass a resolution in support of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women," a United Nations agreement that's considered an international bill of rights for women. It was adopted by the United Nations in 1979, but has not been ratified by the U.S.