CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. - A motion making Cathedral City the Coachella Valley's first official sanctuary city was approved by the City Council tonight by a 3-2 vote.
While other desert cities such as Coachella and Palm Springs have unofficially operated as sanctuary cities, Cathedral City moved towards becoming the first in the region to publicly proclaim that it will not utilize city funds or resources to enforce federal immigration laws.
A second vote on the proposal will be taken at the next council meeting.
The motion was passed after about three hours of public comments from residents on both sides of the issue. Chambers were so full the fire marshall had to be called when the room reached capacity. Dozens of people waited in the lobby and even outside. The meeting was played on a small speaker that was amplified with a cone so others could hear.
The group Courageous Resistance, which fights for immigrant rights had a strong showing of support.
"We have been operating for a very long time as a defect sanctuary city and we think that it is important that we finally have a resolution that puts in once document a clarifying statement of the law," said Lynne O'Neill, legal coordinator for Courageous Resistance.
Opponents of the sanctuary city designation were also on hand to voice their concerns.
"We need to help the people have a path and I understand that in the meantime we need some ways to protect them but just carte blache giving them protection with doing the right thing," said David Smith of Cathedral City. "Illegal is still illegal even if you call it undocumented. I love the people and I want to help them but not this way,"
Council members Shelley Kaplan, John Aguilar and Greg Pettis voted in favor of the proposal.
"We have an opportunity to do something right for our residents, for all of our residents," Pettis said before the vote.
"We have a significant portion of our city's residents who are living in fear daily relative to their immigration status, or that of someone they love or they care about. It's affecting their ability to lead their lives and therefore negatively affecting our community," said Kaplan.
City leaders favoring the proposal said President Donald Trump's executive orders calling for tougher immigration policies, immigrants living in Cathedral City without legal permission have expressed fears of separation from family members and hesitancy to report being victims and/or witnesses to crimes.
The city attorney told council members that the ordinance would not impact how police do their jobs.
Several public meetings, including a May 10 study session that drew numerous residents calling for a formal sanctuary city declaration, preceded the drafting of the resolution approved by the city council.
Mayor Stan Henry and Councilman Mark Carnevale, who opposed the proposal, said the city already had strong policies in place protecting immigrants living in the nation without legal permission from deportation.
Henry said he couldn't vote for the motion for how he felt it divided the city and said that more time was needed to craft an agreement that would unify both sides.
"We have failed our community in letting them know that they are safe and that they are safe without being called a sanctuary city,'' Henry said.
Carnevale worried that adopting a sanctuary city policy could cost the city federal grant funding and said passing the resolution would be "sending up a red flag" to immigration enforcement, endangering residents living in the nation without legal permission.
"We're sending out a welcome mat alerting ICE and immigration control to our city," Carnevale said. "I do not particularly think this is a good thing. If some undocumented residents are worried now, wait and see what happens (if the motion passes.)"
A memo sent from Attorney General Jeff Session to President Trump this past Monday made it clear that cities and counties weren't in danger of losing federal funding, only grants from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.
"It is a complete legal fiction. It is beyond the scope of the president to do so. It is overly broad. It doesn't have any due process requirements in it. So once again we find that we are in a position that we are be threatened with something as a scare tactic that has no legal legitimacy," said O'Neill.
Carnevale also said the motion was "sending out a message to gang members from all over Southern California that Cathedral City is a safe haven. This will endanger our citizens, as well as our neighboring communities. It may also require us to add additional police."
"To pass this feel-good resolution, not knowing what serious ramifications it will bring to our city from federal government powers, I do not feel that this resolution will be to the advantage of Cathedral City."
Aguilar addressed concerns raised by council members and residents alike that crime would increase under the resolution, by saying that the city would be safer with immigrants being more willing to cooperate with police in ongoing investigations.
Aguilar also said that opponents of the sanctuary city status were mistaken in thinking that immigrants living in the country without legal permission who commit crimes would go unpunished.
"I would never support any action that would jeopardize the safety of our families, our law enforcement personnel, or compromise the economic growth of our community," Aguilar said. "If you live in Cathedral City, regardless of your immigration status or your documentation status, and you commit a crime, you'll be arrested."
In addition to proclaiming sanctuary city status, the motion "implores the repeal'' of Trump's executive order 13768, which states that sanctuary cities should not receive federal funds, "on the basis that it is contrary to traditional American values of acceptance, inclusion, and the idea of the American Dream.'' The order was blocked last month by a Santa Clara County judge.