For more than an hour they made their way to the podium, some using a translator to convey to the seven people whose minds they hoped to change Monday night their passions and deep griefs.
Summoning up often tearful, agonizing memories of loved ones, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, ripped unexpectedly from their lives by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and then deported, they also dropped at the feet of the Auburn City Council their own fears of being deported.
At the center of concern was a council preparing that night to dust off and adopt again a resolution that 10 years earlier had declared the City of Auburn a “welcoming,” “all-inclusive” city.
In the minds of the more than 70 people who packed the council chamber, however, it was a resolution without teeth, a bloodless, boneless, feel-good reaffirmation of the status quo, which, they argued, would accomplish nothing.
“My community is suffering, my community is being crushed because of the persecution that is happening, right now,” said Antonio Flores Quin, a community organizer with La Voz in Auburn.
“You are saying that Auburn is an all-inclusive city, and that is great, and I, for the most part, believe that to be true,” said Lydia Guerrero, an Auburn resident since 2008. “However … there is a threat moving over many of the residents here in Auburn that they are not included in the message of inclusivity.
“… I stand my neighbors, I stand with the workers in the community, I stand with parents of schoolchildren. I will speak up for them because some do not feel that they are welcome to speak up, and because it is the right thing to do,” Guerrero said.
What all who spoke wanted instead was for the City Council to adopt, not a resolution, but an ordinance with teeth, a declaration that the City of Auburn would stand its ground, would not cooperate by turning over its undocumented residents to agents of the federal government,
What they wanted was for Auburn to declare itself “a sanctuary city.” The City has been unwilling to do that because of the federal government’s continuing threat to withhold millions of vital dollars in federal funding from such cities.
According to Auburn Police Chief Bob Lee, his officers never ask people about their immigration status, but after the arrest and jailing of a suspect, the federal government can and does monitor their status on the web.
All those pleas and tears did not fall on deaf ears.
Deputy Mayor Largo Wales suggested that, while she did not support the phrase “sanctuary city” because of the funding issues, the City should “take things up a notch” by sending the matter back to the ad-hoc committee that had agreed a resolution was the best way to go and have it work on an ordinance,
“Someone here said that this is the time to take progressive action, and I don’t believe that a resolution is very progressive,” Wales said. “We already had a resolution, and I think that what we are asking for is, not for us to lose funding, but for just a stronger affirmation of ‘who are we’ in this city.”
Councilman Claude DaCorsi drew a lesson from his many years at the Seattle King County Housing Authority, where he worked with what he derided as the “ridiculous, bureaucratic organization” known as the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.
“My question to the council is, if you pass an ordinance, how does that stop ICE? How does that stop them from coming into any community and doing what they want to do?” DaCorsi said. “It’s no different from this council passing the moratorium limiting the number of retail marijuana establishments, which the state ignored.
“The federal government doesn’t care what we do. The federal government has no compassion for what we do,” DaCorsi said. “I’m not speaking about any administration here, I’m speaking in general terms when I say they don’t understand what happens on the streets of America. Anything we do, resolution or ordinance, is virtually going to be ignored by the federal government. As a council, we have an opportunity to look what at what the needs are here. We as a council are responsible to serve nearly 79,000 people in this community, and that’s what we need to look at.”
City Council members agreed to discuss the proposed ordinance at their next study session at 5:30 p.m., Monday, May 8 at Auburn City Hall, with the expectation that it would come before the City Council for potential adoption at its regular meeting on May 15.
What the ordinance will say or do is, of course, unknown at this time, but it is not likely to give the audience members who showed up Monday night everything they wanted. But that did nothing to dampen all the big smiles after the meeting.
Like the one on the face of Anna Lynn, a member of St. Matthew/San Mateo Episcopal Church in Auburn, which has been holding forums as of late to discuss the issue.
“We just really need to support our Latino and Latina neighbors so we can have a strong community, a diverse community. You know, God’s number one rule is to love one’s neighbor, and we definitely love our neighbors here in Auburn,” Lynn said.