Mayor Lee Brand says Fresno will not be a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and sanctuary city status

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand discusses walking a fine line when it comes to the potential of "sanctuary city" status regarding immigration.
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Fresno Mayor Lee Brand discusses walking a fine line when it comes to the potential of "sanctuary city" status regarding immigration.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand said Wednesday that Fresno will not become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.

More than 400 jurisdictions across the country have some sort of sanctuary policy, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and about 40 others in California.

But in a meeting with The Fresno Bee’s editorial board, Brand said that he does not want to jeopardize federal funds for public works projects he says the city needs. Brand said he’s stuck between a Democratic governor and a Republican president, and he needs to maintain a neutral stance in order to maintain a good relationship with both.

“I’m not going to make Fresno a sanctuary city because I don’t want to make Fresno ineligible from receiving potentially millions of dollars in infrastructure and other types of projects,” he said. “My philosophy is to follow the law and to avoid these national culture-war questions.”

The term “sanctuary city” has no singular definition, but applies generally to cities that offer political support or protections to undocumented residents. Some cities established policies barring police from stopping people solely based on their immigration status. Others, such as San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, take it further by setting up legal defense funds for immigrants facing deportation. San Francisco, which has been a sanctuary city for decades, established a law in 2013 declaring that local authorities cannot hold immigrants without nonviolent felonies for immigration agents.

President Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on sanctuary cities that protect immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Details about Trump’s crackdown remain unclear. Trump on Wednesday signed two executive orders designed to begin building a border wall with Mexico, add lockups for detaining immigrants who cross the border illegally, enhance enforcement powers for border agents and strip federal funding to cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement, the Los Angeles Times reported.

According to a draft document reviewed by The Times, under the new order, the federal government would threaten to withhold funds from cities that limit cooperation with immigration officials.

Brand pointed out that Fresno police don’t ask suspects for their immigration status. “We only arrest criminals, whether they are illegal or legal,” he said.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, however, does collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, allowing agents to work from inside the county jail to determine whether undocumented immigrants should be deported. The American Civil Liberties Union says the program, which has been in place since 2015, lacks public oversight and leaves immigrants vulnerable to abuse.

Brand said he understands the moral issues, but said, “I’ve got to follow a path that represents everybody’s city of Fresno.”

“We’re a city that has never gotten our fair share of anything,” he said. “This is a city that needs a lot of help. I can’t make this a better city if I’m going to alienate the people giving the money.”

After Trump’s election, Fresno leaders, including City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, Councilman Oliver Baines and leaders of the faith and immigrant communities, said they would advocate for Fresno’s undocumented residents.

Faith in the Valley, a multifaith grassroots organization of 120 congregations from Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Fresno and Kern counties, released a statement vowing to defend immigrants against Trump’s executive actions. Several of the congregations have initiated plans to offer sanctuary to immigrants who are under threat of deportation. A 2011 ICE memo ensures enforcement does not happen at sensitive locations like schools and churches unless there’s an imminent threat.

Executive director the Rev. Trena Turner of Victory in Praise Church in Stockton said she was disappointed and concerned to learn Fresno will not become a sanctuary city.

“Tens of thousands of Central Valley immigrants and refugees are counting on us for protection and defense,” she said.

Andrea Castillo: 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo