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Fresno establishes ‘long overdue’ immigration committee — but it has no funding

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Naturalization ceremony presented by the Fresno office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services at the Fresno Convention Center's Valdéz Hall welcomed 890 immigrants from 55 countries.
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Naturalization ceremony presented by the Fresno office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services at the Fresno Convention Center's Valdéz Hall welcomed 890 immigrants from 55 countries.

Fresno immigrant advocates believe a “long overdue” new advisory committee will make a dent on issues affecting the local immigrant community — despite having no funding attached.

The Fresno City Council on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution to establish a 15-member immigrant affairs committee. The committee will be tasked with advising the City Council on issues related to immigrants, according to the resolution.

In June 2017, the City Council turned down a proposal to establish a legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation.

The proposal asked for the city to include $200,000 in its 2017-18 budget for its contribution to the public-private legal fund that had been pushed by immigration and civil rights advocates.

Some acknowledged that not having to make an upfront funding commitment for the advisory committee might have played a role in the unanimous support for Thursday’s resolution.

Samuel Molina, state director for Mi Familia Vota, said he and others had been advocating for the committee for about a year and a half.

“It’s long overdue,” Molina said.

While he agreed that having no funding attached might have contributed to the passage of the resolution, he believes the committee can accomplish several things.

For example, it shows the immigrant community that the City Council stands with them and takes their concerns seriously, he said. The committee has the potential to address several issues within the immigrant community, like transition into citizenship and language barriers.

Plus, similar committees in other jurisdictions have shown to be effective. “Committees have worked to develop strategic plans on addressing immigrant issues and needs,” he said.

Council Member Luis Chavez said the city has to start somewhere when it comes to communicating with the immigrant community and including immigrants in the city’s decision-making process.

“This is a way to bring them to the table,” he said. “I think what we are trying to do here, is the first step in building a bridge with city hall and the immigrant community.”

Each council member will nominate two members and the mayor will appoint one, Chavez said. All committee members are expected to be in place by the end of March or early April, and the group will start its work soon after that.

The committee’s meetings will be subject to the Brown Act and will be open to the public, according to the resolution.

Eliseo V. Gamino, chair of the Central Valley Leadership Roundtable, said he hopes the committee will have resources and accountability.

The committee should be based on assistance and in “helping keep families together” – a need that has recently been illustrated with the case of a Navy veteran who fears could be deported, Gamino said.

But Gamino said the committee does need adequate resources to be effective.

“It has to have appropriate resources and accountability goals to help families stay... together and avoid deportation without due process,” he said.

Chavez said the committee will have city hall resources, as well as access to department heads, the city’s attorney’s office and access to his personal office.

Issues the advisory committee can help address, Chavez said, range from long wait times for international flights at the Fresno International Airport due to an inadequate number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, to offering English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and making citizenship classes more widely available.

The legal defense fund is an issue the committee could bring back to the table as well, he said.

Maricela Gutierrez, executive director with Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Services (SIREN), applauded the new committee.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” she said. “Our wish and dream is that one day there is actually an office of immigrants and refugee affairs.”

Yesenia Amaro covers immigration and diverse communities for The Fresno Bee. She previously worked for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Nevada. She recently received the 2018 Journalistic Integrity award from the CACJ. In 2015, she won the Outstanding Journalist of the Year Award from the Nevada Press Association, and also received the Community Service Award.


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