Around 200 people demonstrated at Fresno City Hall on Friday to protest Mayor Lee Brand’s declaration that Fresno will not become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.
In a meeting with The Bee’s editorial board earlier this week, Brand said he wants to keep the city out of the national debate over immigration. He said he doesn’t want to jeopardize federal funds the city badly needs for infrastructure and other projects.
Demonstrators demanded that Fresno City Council members announce their support of a sanctuary city resolution by next week. Also by next week, they demanded to see the Fresno Police Department policies against collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The biggest demand was a response from Brand – by March 16.
“We come here to demand that you denounce what you said and instead publicly declare Fresno a sanctuary city,” organizer Ariana Martinez Lott said to cheers from the audience.
Brand did not respond to the demonstration, but said he stands by his statements to The Bee, including that he “has a heart for the immigrant community.”
Many of the demonstrators were young. Their signs were passionate:
“Fresno should welcome all.”
“Lee Brand: Listen to your community. We want Fresno as a sanctuary city.”
“I didn’t vote for a heartless mayor.”
“Undocumented and unafraid.”
Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria and Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, said they understand the struggle because their family members had been undocumented.
Some undocumented immigrants spoke themselves. One woman, Fabiola Felix, tearfully shared her story as an undocumented mother cleaning houses to support her children.
“I think it’s unjust that our mayor shouldn’t make it a sanctuary city,” she said. “To want a better future is not a sin.”
Soria said she was disappointed in Brand’s message. She plans to meet with the activists to determine how best to proceed.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has collaborated with ICE since 2015, allowing agents to work from inside the jail to determine whether undocumented immigrants should be deported.
Soria assured demonstrators that Fresno police do not enforce federal law and don’t ask people about their immigration status. Asked later about Sheriff Margaret Mims’ policy, she said she hopes to have a conversation with the sheriff about it.
“I hope she hears today the cry from the community,” she said. “It’s heart-wrenching. They’re scared.”
President Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on cities that protect people who are in the country illegally. Many cities in California and across the U.S. have identified themselves as sanctuaries, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.
The term “sanctuary city” has no single 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 for immigration agents any immigrants who commit nonviolent felonies. Fresno activists want local leaders to establish policies similar to San Francisco’s.
California provides other statewide immigrant protections. The Trust Act has since 2014 forbidden state and local authorities from holding undocumented immigrants at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And this year, the TRUTH Act went into effect, requiring law enforcement to provide civil rights information to immigrants in custody before being interviewed by immigration agents and ensuring that records related to ICE access are public.
Martinez Lott said Fresno should decide whether it prioritizes people or money.
“Mayor Lee Brand, I have a feeling that we’re going to get to know each other really well in the next few weeks,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”