Sacramento could fund legal aid for undocumented immigrants as sanctuary city

Mona Gustafson of Elk Grove shows her support during a rally at Sacramento International Airport to allow refugees and immigrants to enter the U.S. on Jan. 29, 2017 in Sacramento, Calif.
Mona Gustafson of Elk Grove shows her support during a rally at Sacramento International Airport to allow refugees and immigrants to enter the U.S. on Jan. 29, 2017 in Sacramento, Calif. rbyer@sacbee.com

A day after President Donald Trump reiterated a threat to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Monday he will form a task force to strengthen Sacramento’s sanctuary status and Councilman Eric Guerra called for the city to fund legal aid for undocumented residents.

Steinberg said the City Council will likely form the task force during a Tuesday night meeting, and it will ask the panel to report back in two weeks with specific actions and funding recommendations, including updating the three-decade-old resolution that first made Sacramento a sanctuary city. The four-member committee will be led by Guerra.

“We’re going to evaluate everything that the (Trump) administration puts out,” Guerra said. “We’re going to make sure we protect all our residents.”

Guerra said Monday the task force will consider using city funds to pay for legal services for undocumented residents. Guerra said the city wouldn’t provide direct legal advice but would work through organizations such as the McGeorge School of Law, UC Davis and the Cruz Reynoso Bar Association, formerly known as La Raza Lawyers.

Guerra said he would like the city to help undocumented residents “know their rights” and plan for worst-case deportation scenarios in which undocumented parents are separated from children who are citizens because they were born in the United States.

“We have to help people plan for that,” Guerra said. “We’re not in the business of legal defense, but ... we do support those programs.”

Guerra said he didn’t yet have an estimate on how much Sacramento should spend on such efforts, but he would like the focus to be on helping immigrants create powers of attorney, guardianships for children and other financial planning to ensure kids have safe structures in place if they are separated from family.

Guerra said the issue was personal to him, since his mother was undocumented for many years, and he understood the “anxiety” many undocumented immigrants are feeling.

In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that aired Sunday, Trump threatened to strip federal money from California if the state declares itself a “sanctuary state.” He also reaffirmed his opposition to sanctuary cities, saying “they breed crime, there’s a lot of problems.”

State lawmakers are pushing through a slate of bills aimed at cementing California’s status as a sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Those actions include bills that would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources on immigration enforcement and another that would enlist the state to provide legal aid to immigrants facing deportation.

San Francisco last week filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Trump’s order to cut off federal aid to sanctuary cities.

Steinberg said the task force was necessary to look at how other cities in California are reacting and come up with a course of action for Sacramento.

“We are going to be both aggressive and smart, and we are going to give no ground,” Steinberg said. “I want to make sure that ... we consider all of our tools and maximize the opportunities to protect the people who are worried and fearful about these executive orders.”

Guerra also said the task force would look at how to reach immigrant communities to assure them that city workers, including police and fire officials, will not inquire about immigration status. Guerra said he had spoken to interim Police Chief Brian Louie, and his “conversations with the chief have been clear and positive. He also agrees that it is counterproductive to create fear in the community.”

But Guerra added that outreach is necessary because recent national rhetoric has had an impact on local communities. He gave an example of a police action last week near his Tahoe Park neighborhood during which a special tactical unit was looking for a suspect.

“People saw a lot of uniformed officers who didn’t look like normal police,” Guerra said. “So there was massive fear.”

California State University undocumented students attended a forum at Sacramento State on Jan. 23, 2017 to discuss how federal changes could affect them.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa