Locals put heads together against Trump agenda

David Briggs
CIVIL RIGHTS: Bob Harmon, chair of Marin’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke to about 50 people at West Marin School in early February. “The rule of law is only as good as your willingness to uphold it,” he said. “Without the Constitution, I frankly don’t know what we have.” He spoke about three bills in the state legislature aimed at protecting immigrants—most importantly, S.B. 54, which would make California a sanctuary state.  

When President Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 that sought to address illegal immigration, the changes to policy left many confused and anxious. In West Marin, a committee comprised of activists and lawyers has formed to combat uncertainty and promote constitutional rights, while another group met with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office this week and is reaching out to other elected officials to ensure that West Marin’s voice is heard. 

Meanwhile, others have hosted informational sessions and meetings on immigration and rights, and West Marin businesses announced a day of protest against the president’s agenda, when they will donate a portion of sales to various causes. 

President Trump’s executive order on immigration, subtitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” seeks to reinforce immigration policy by instructing the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the removal of illegal immigrants who have been convicted of any criminal offense. Included within the new stipulations is a clause that demands the removal of a person who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” 

The ambiguity of the language perplexes Charles Nichol, a Point Reyes resident with 30 years of experience as an immigration lawyer who joined the committee on immigration and sanctuary cities, a subcommittee of a new group called Standing Together: West Marin. 

“It’s an overly broad statement and it could mean anything,” he said during the group’s first official meeting last weekend at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, in Inverness. “[President Trump] said he wants to deport two to three million illegal immigrants with criminal records, but there is no indication that there are even enough people [who would qualify].”

Prior to the executive order, Mr. Nichol said, an illegal immigrant would be referred to an immigration agency only if he or she had committed a crime of “moral turpitude,” such as rape, murder and burglary. Now it appears that even minor offenses could lead to the same referral.

At Saturday’s meeting, members discussed the possibility of making Marin County a “sanctuary county,” a term describing cities and counties that have chosen to limit how local law enforcement cooperates with federal immigration agents. A member of Sanctuary Marin, a countywide group seeking to do just that, spoke to the committee, and the idea drew a favorable response. 

Dennis Rodoni, District Four Supervisor, said supervisors have been discussing whether to declare Marin a sanctuary county but have not taken any concrete steps. He said he understands the precarious position Marin could face if it were to lose federal funding; the executive order promises to block federal funding to jurisdictions that declare themselves sanctuaries—and that there might be a way to “have it both ways.” 

“Additional resolutions will be necessary as the Federal mandates unfold and I am prepared to take any steps necessary,” Mr. Rodoni wrote in an email to the Light. “My thinking is we can do anything a sanctuary city or county does by resolution (or resolutions) and possibly not lose federal funding.”

Standing Together: West Marin has formed other committees to address the federal administration’s shifts in policies. Others are organizing, too.

The West Marin Collaborative is a monthly meeting headed by Maria Niggle bringing together representatives of various local nonprofits focused on Latino affairs. Ms. Niggle said their goal is to “bring information here and not to let it get stuck over the hill.”

Last month, the West Marin Collaborative helped organize a Spanish-language immigration information session at West Marin School hosted by Alyssa Simpson, a senior attorney with the Canal Alliance in San Rafael and co-host of a monthly radio show on KWMR called “Témas de Inmigración.” 

“We see the collaborative as setting the record straight,” Ms. Niggle said. “On a personal note, there are a lot of rumors and anxiety… It’s really important not to feed into that. We need to wait and make sure we all know what is going on so we don’t spread falsehoods.”

Ms. Simpson, the lawyer, emphasized the importance of community members staying informed. “There are a lot of rumors in the community about what can happen,” she said. 

Following the information session, a rumor emerged that Sheriff’s Lt. Doug Pittman had told people at the meeting that ICE had contacted him, asking for a list of illegal families living in the county—a rumor he roundly denied. Numerous other people questioned about the rumor also denied its validity.

West Marin Community Services and the Point Reyes Library also sponsored the session, which was funded by a $5,000 grant from the San Francisco Foundation provided after the presidential election.

“They said they wanted to get money out fast,” Wendy Friefeld, executive director for West Marin Community Services, said. “They basically said, ‘Please, we want to help you’ and we received a check three weeks later. All over the country—especially in the Bay Area—once people got over the post-election shock, they realized we have to help each other and support one another.” 

Bob Harmon, chair of Marin’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, gave a presentation at the school earlier this month, sponsored by the library. He said mass deportations and detentions are prevented by multiple Constitutional amendments. He told the crowd about a 1944 Supreme Court case that ultimately defended the country’s use of internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II, an unfortunate example of when the law failed to protect citizens, he said. 

“Even [Justice] Scalia thought it was horrible,” Mr. Harmon said. “And Donald’s team is well aware of this precedence.” 

Local businesses have also joined the resistance against the Trump administration. This Friday in Point Reyes Station, 17 businesses will join a national strike against President Trump, donating a percentage of sales to various nonprofits and causes. 

Susan Hayes, of Susan Hayes Handwovens, helped organize the protest, along with Bridget Devlin of Bovine Bakery. She said business owners weighed the idea of closing, which would align with the plans for the national protest, but decided against it. 

“We all have employees: that was one thing that came up when we talked about what kind of action we wanted to take,” she said. “Everybody needs to work, and we felt like doing something more positive. It’s been a hard winter for people; January and February have been tough for businesses in town. We want to stand in solidarity with the strike but felt this was more positive for our particular community.”

Ms. Hayes and Ms. Devlin are involved with a new group called Indivisible West Marin, inspired by the online guide for resisting the Trump administration. The group visited Senator Feinstein’s office earlier this week to learn about the most effective ways to reach out to the senator. The answer? Phone calls, emails and faxes.