■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
San Jacinto has officially left the discussion of becoming a sanctuary city back in 2017.
An agenda item regarding sanctuary city status — proposed by state assembly candidate, and San Jacinto councilman Andrew Kotyuk — was the topic of discussion amongst his fellow city council members Tuesday, Dec. 19. Following a unanimous 4-0 vote, San Jacinto’s status was left unchanged, vowing to never revisit the item again.
“The agenda item was to discuss where the Council stood regarding sanctuary or non-sanctuary city. I was seeking a motion/declaration/resolution stating that we were not a sanctuary city,” explained Kotyuk in an email. Kotyuk expressed at the meeting that he had been asking “all year” for the item to be discussed. “San Jacinto is not a sanctuary city and never has been. As a non-sanctuary city, immigration has never raided, as far as I can remember growing up here. Being a non-sanctuary city does align with law enforcement and Riverside Sheriff’s departments position.”
Newly elected Mayor pro tem Russ Utz was absent during the meeting, but was later excused by Mayor Crystal Ruiz. Kotyuk nearly proposed to table the discussion for a future meeting in which Utz would be present, before Councilman Scott Miller objected.
“I would like to see us discuss this item tonight, I do not want to go into 2018 with this question unanswered,” voiced Miller. The item had been tabled to be brought back to council at least once before.
Meanwhile, Councilman Alonso Ledezma expressed his disappointment in the item’s being brought up, as an immigrant himself.
“It’s very unfortunate that this is being brought back again,” Ledezma commented, who was 25 when he became a legal citizen. He followed by sharing a story about his own experience of immigrating to the United States from Mexico, and the hardships he faced on the way. “It’s a long process. You don’t understand how hard it is to become a citizen.”
Many hispanic members of the community echoed Ledezma, voicing their own concerns; the majority of them fearful of having immigration officers patrolling their neighborhoods. Some of them pointed to the fact that while not all of the city council members are immigrants themselves, councilmembers like Kotyuk and Ruiz have hispanic spouses.
“This was not my choice to put this on the agenda,” said Ruiz. “I fought very hard to keep it off the agenda. I don’t think this is a place to discuss something that’s already come down from the governor.”
In October 2017, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on Senate Bill 54, declaring the state of California a “sanctuary state,” which will take effect in January.
A sanctuary city is a city that has limited cooperation with the federal government’s immigration enforcement, and undocumented immigrants/refugees would not have to fear being turned over to federal authorities should they run afoul of local police.
“In enshrining these new protections, it is important to note what the bill does not do,” Brown wrote, after signing the legislation. “This bill does not prevent or prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way.”
A year ago, the San Jacinto Unified School District board of trustees declared the district as a “safe haven,” which more or less is the same idea, just on a smaller scale. The safe haven status protects students’ records, so that they are not punished according to their citizenship.
“We don’t enforce federal immigration law in our field operations,” stated San Jacinto Police Chief Lt. John Salisbury. “I don’t think that [SJ becoming a sanctuary city] would drive Sheriff’s policy in cooperation with our federal immigration authorities.”
“A resolution is going to do nothing at all,” Councilman Miller said in response. “I guess what I’m trying to figure out is, why are we having this discussion about something that is going to accomplish nothing?”
Just when it seemed the council was ready to reach a collective conclusion, Ledezma threw a curve ball.
“I did recommend for this city to be a sanctuary city, so I don’t know if anybody would like to second my motion,” Ledezma interjected.
A blanket of silence befell the room for a couple of seconds before other council members suggested he adjust his motion, and leave the item alone as they all seemingly had planned to. After a cringeworthy moment of confusion, clarification, and explanation, Ledezma withdrew his motion.
“We all have the right to have hope,” declared Ruiz. “Hope for a better future for ourselves, our families, our future, our grandchildren, their grandchildren, and eleven times more grandchildren. This discussion is all politically motivated. Whether it be sanctuary or no sanctuary, nothing we do at this dais matters.”
San Jacinto has never been a sanctuary city. The very first sanctuary city was Berkeley, California, which passed a sanctuary resolution in 1971, challenging the U.S. government’s denying asylum to refugees from certain parts of Central America.
“I recognized a shortage of workers and the need for an avenue to legalize,” Kotyuk reflected after the meeting. “If there is a need within our community to become a citizen or receive a Visa, I would be glad to assist, and anyone can contact me to do so.”