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Advocates hope Merced will become ‘sanctuary’ for undocumented

Members of the Merced Organizing Project and PICO National Network’s coalition Faith in the Valley hold a rally asking President Barack Obama and local officials to protect undocumented families Thursday in front of the Merced County Administration Building on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.
Members of the Merced Organizing Project and PICO National Network’s coalition Faith in the Valley hold a rally asking President Barack Obama and local officials to protect undocumented families Thursday in front of the Merced County Administration Building on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. bcalix@mercedsun-star.com

The Merced Organizing Project and its partners are floating the idea of approaching city and county officials for potential resolutions to become a “regional sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants following the election of Donald Trump as president.

Members of MOP and its Faith in the Valley PICO partners from five counties – Fresno, Kern, Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus – spoke at a news conference Thursday, calling on President Barack Obama to do more to protect undocumented immigrant families and provide clemency for nonviolent drug offenders who are incarcerated. The clergy leaders and county residents also said they intend to ask the county and cities to become sanctuaries for vulnerable groups, such as undocumented immigrants, Muslims and LGBT people.

The crowd of about 25 people stood in the rain in front of the Merced County Administration Building on M Street, chanting “Not on our watch” and “One city, one fight.”

Arlette Flores, 36, who attends United Methodist Church of Merced, said she is one of the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. She said she has been treated unfairly and that she shouldn’t have to beg for dignity.

“It’s traumatic to think about leaving your own country – leaving your family,” she said. “I know that a lot of families right now are in fear. But I won’t let my fear be bigger than me or my desire to speak for my people that have been living in darkness for so many years. ... I will say, ‘No more.’”

Flores said her 11-year-old son who also is undocumented panicked after the election results and wondered what would happen to their family.

“Get out of your comfort zones and speak out,” she said.

Tsia Xiong, executive director of MOP, noted Merced County’s diversity and said the county and its cities should protect the rights of undocumented immigrants. “We’re all immigrants in this country, one way or another,” he said in an interview with the Sun-Star.

Area leaders on Thursday had mixed reactions to the proposal.

Sheriff Vern Warnke said he doesn’t agree the county should become a sanctuary for undocumented people.

“I think anybody who wants to come to this nation and make a better life for themselves should be able to,” Warnke said. “That’s how our nation was founded. But there’s a process to do it correctly.”

Warnke said if an undocumented person commits a crime investigated by his deputies, that person may be subject to deportation by federal authorities. But he also said sheriff’s deputies don’t actively seek out undocumented people.

“If you’re a victim, it’s not our job to find out if you’re a naturalized citizen,” he said.

Xiong said MOP plans to approach the Livingston City Council first about becoming a sanctuary city. The plan is for the language in resolutions to mimic Santa Ana’s in Orange County, which is largely symbolic.

Livingston Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra said he’s conflicted about designated sanctuary cities. He doesn’t believe families should be split up or want longtime residents deported. He understands that attaining citizenship can take up to a decade and believes the laws should be changed.

“We have laws for a reason,” he said. “If the laws are no good, we need to get together to change the laws.”

Councilman Alex McCabe said he would like more information before the issues is put to a vote, but in general he supports undocumented people in the community.

“Anything we can do to protect undocumented people in the community, we should do it,” he said. “They’re still members of our community. They’re hardworking people and contribute a lot to our community.”

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

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