The Menlo Park City Council took a number of steps Tuesday night to deal with the issue of how the city will treat undocumented immigrants.
The council adopted a "Welcoming City" resolution and authorized Mayor Kirsten Keith to send a letter of support for California Senate Bill 54, which would make the state a so-called "sanctuary" state.
The council also agreed to set up a subcommittee composed of its two lawyers, Kirsten Keith and Ray Mueller, to iron out the language of what is expected to become two proposed ordinances that will come before the council again, likely at its May 23 meeting.
One of the ordinances would implement a ban on using city resources to collect sensitive information about a person's immigration status, and the other would prohibit the police department from cooperating with federal immigration officials on "civil detainer requests."
Some wording changes were needed in the draft ordinance that was presented to the council Tuesday, the council agreed.
According to a staff report, civil detainer requests can be issued by federal immigration officials to ask that a person in the custody of a local law enforcement agency be kept longer than he or she would otherwise be detained, typically up to 48 hours. Unlike criminal warrants, these requests are not issued by a judge and are not based on a finding of probable cause, according to Assistant City Attorney Leigh Prince. Local jurisdictions are not obligated by law to honor such warrants, she said.
According to Police Commander Dave Bertini, in the last few years, no such requests have been made to the Menlo Park Police Department, to his knowledge. The Menlo Park Police Department doesn't usually interact with federal immigration officials, because the city doesn't have a jail, he said.
The "elephant in the room" during the discussion, acknowledged Ms. Prince in a presentation to the council, is the question of how severely such action could affect Menlo Park's bottom line, since President Trump threatened in an executive order to withhold federal funding from so-called "sanctuary" cities.
When all of Menlo Park's federal funding for the 2016-17 fiscal year was tallied up, she said, the city received about $1.1 million: about $413,000 went to community services, $700,000 to public works, and $70,000 to the police department. On average, the city gets about $665,000 in federal funds each year, a staff report said.
There is still ambiguity as to exactly how much federal funding is at stake. She and Mayor Kirsten Keith attended the oral arguments at the Santa Clara County v. Trump hearing held last week, she said, and noted that while San Francisco and Santa Clara counties interpreted the threat to mean that all federal funding could be at stake, President Trump's attorney claimed only federal grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice would be withheld from sanctuary cities.
Using this year's budget as a reference point, that would mean that the equivalent of about $70,000 from the police grant might be at stake in future years.
Menlo Park has signed an amicus brief in support of the Santa Clara County lawsuit. Thirty-three other jurisdictions around the U.S. have asked that the executive order be halted.
City Attorney Bill McClure pointed out that what constitutes a "sanctuary city" is not well-defined. Menlo Park's current policies, plus a resolution that the council passed unanimously on Jan. 24, declaring that the city is committed to a "diverse, supportive, inclusive and protective community," may already put Menlo Park in the eyes of the federal government in terms of being a "sanctuary" jurisdiction, he said.
More than 20 people, including several kids and teens, spoke in favor of the ordinance during the public comment period of the council meeting.
Marcus Tjernlund, an eighth-grader at Hillview Middle School, said he has been part of a Spanish immersion program and has a friend whose parents are undocumented. "Don't assist deportations, please," he said.
Dorothy Fadiman, a Menlo Park documentary filmmaker, said she has interviewed hundreds of immigrants who crossed the border illegally into the U.S. "From personal experience, these people want work, they want education and they want to be treated humanely," she said. (Here is a link to her film on immigration.)
Menlo Park residents and the Rev. Diana Gibson and the Rev. Geoff Browning expressed support for the ordinance, as did San Mateo County Poet Laureate and Menlo Park resident Lisa Rosenberg.
Also in favor of the ordinance were a teacher-student pair – Betty Achinstein and 10-year-old Desmond – who quoted Langston Hughes' "I Dream A World." He recited:
"A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free."