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County of Santa Clara Affirms Commitment to Public Health and Safety for its Diverse Community

Urges Community to Use County Services without Fear of Immigration Enforcement

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. –The County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution today to send a message that immigrants need not be fearful of County employees reporting their immigration status when they seek County services. The resolution states that “fostering a relationship of trust, respect, and open communication between County employees and County residents is essential to County departments’ core mission of ensuring public safety and serving the needs of the entire community.”

Santa Clara County is home to a diverse and vibrant community of people representing many races, ethnicities, and nationalities, including immigrants from all over the world. Approximately one-third of all County residents are foreign born, and approximately two-thirds live in families with at least one foreign-born member.

The resolution was introduced by Supervisor George Shirakawa, Chair of the Public Safety and Justice Committee. Shirakawa said, “The intent of this resolution is to get at three issues - All residents of Santa Clara County can and should trust their County health and safety agencies; this trust is predicated on the fact that County employees will not inquire into residents’ immigration status – unless required; and the County does not enforce federal civil immigration laws.”

“I previously voted against our involvement in litigation against Arizona believing that it was not our role to be involved in another state’s business,” said Supervisor Don Gage, District 1, who also supported the resolution. “But this resolution is different, it deals with how we expect our employees to treat our residents, and I believe that it is our business.”

The resolution would not impact the ability of the Sheriff’s Office to carry out criminal law enforcement activities. It may, in fact, aid investigations.

When trust is eroded between immigrant communities and local governments, it discourages crime victims and witnesses from coming forward and cooperating with local law enforcement officials, and makes people afraid to seek the services and medical assistance they and their children need, thereby undermining the health, safety, and well-being of citizens and non-citizens alike.

“My concern is about public health,” said Supervisor Liz Kniss, Chair of the Health and Hospital Committee, in support of the resolution. “It is important that we provide services that prevent the spread of communicable disease, regardless of immigration status. To do otherwise would put the entire County’s health in jeopardy.”

In taking the action, the Supervisors indicated that the enforcement of federal civil immigration law is the responsibility of the federal government and not of the County.

Supervisor Cortese pointed out that the federal immigration process is flawed and needs to be fixed. “I’ve been in the position of trying to assist constituents with resolving their immigration status,” said Cortese. “The process is cumbersome and almost impossible to navigate. It needs to be fixed at the federal level before local governments are looked to for enforcement.”

The County Board of Supervisors has consistently sought to protect the rights of all County residents to be free from discrimination, abuse, violence, and exploitation, as reflected by its enduring commitment to protecting victims of hate crimes, domestic violence, elder abuse, human trafficking, and immigration practitioner fraud in Santa Clara County, and maintains that the best way to achieve its public objectives is to foster an environment of inclusiveness. The resolution states:

  1. No County department, agency, officer, or employee shall initiate any inquiry or enforcement action based solely on a person’s actual or suspected immigration status, national origin, race, ethnicity, and/or inability to speak English.
  2. No County department, agency, officer, or employee shall use any County funds, resources, or personnel to investigate, question, apprehend, or arrest an individual solely for an actual or suspected civil violation of federal immigration law.
  3. No County department, agency, officer, or employee shall condition the provision of County services or benefits on the citizenship or immigration status of the individual except where such conditions are lawfully imposed by federal or state law or local public assistance eligibility criteria.
  4. No County department, agency, officer, or employee who collects information for the purpose of determining eligibility for services or benefits, or for seeking reimbursement from federal, state, or third-party payers, shall use any County funds or resources to provide that information to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for purposes of assisting in the enforcement of federal civil immigration law.
  5. The County calls on ICE agents performing official business in the County to identify themselves as federal immigration officers, to make clear that they are not officers, agents, or employees of the County, and to comply with legal mandates to refrain from racial profiling and to respect the due process rights of County residents, including but not limited to providing all required warnings concerning an individual’s right to remain silent, the right not to sign documents he or she does not understand, and the right to speak with a lawyer.

The Board also clarified that nothing in the resolution shall be construed to prohibit any County officer or employee from participating in task force activities with federal law enforcement authorities; nor prohibit any County law enforcement officer from investigating violations of criminal law.

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Laurel Anderson, Office of Public Affairs (408) 299-5119
Posted: June 22, 2010