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Sanctuary Cities - is Sebastopol next?

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Sanctuary Cities - is Sebastopol next?

Open Letter to Sebastopol City Council and others,

Let’s discuss Sebastopol declaring ourselves a sanctuary city. In such cities, the local police and officials refuse to share information and collaborate with federal agents from ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement), who seek to deport residents. Many immigrants, both documented and undocumented, feel unsafe since the recent presidential election, as do others.

We would join over 200 cities around the United States, including San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Julie Combs hopes that city will declare itself a sanctuary city. Some residents are asking the town of Sonoma to add itself to this growing number of sanctuary cities during our troubled times.

Latinos from Mexico and Central America, as well as Muslims, are the most at risk. An estimated 29,000 undocumented immigrants live in Sonoma County, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. I have hired hard-working Latinos during my 24 years farming here. Sonoma County and California agriculture would suffer if there were an immigration sweep, as would other businesses. 

One of my best recent students in 40 years of college teaching was openly undocumented, as was his sister, a law student. Over 100 colleges have declared themselves sanctuary colleges and plan to help defend those threatened by ICE, as well as by individuals or groups. Approximately 50% of Sonoma County public school students are native Spanish speakers, some of whom are being harassed, including citizens. Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, where I used to teach, have many Latino students. 

Latinos are not the only people at risk. People of faiths other than Christian, especially Muslim, and people of color, have been threatened, as well as women and Jews. There is a deep concern among such targeted people, as well as those of diverse gender and sexual identities. 

The word sanctuary means “a sacred place.” I was ordained a United Methodist minister. Here in Sonoma County and throughout the United States we have the shameful history of Japanese-Americans being put in internment camps during World War II, which the new president-elect has described as a precedent for doing so again with other groups. Yet no Japanese-American was ever even charged with being a spy. Many served our country heroically in the struggle against Japanese fascism.

During the American War on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos I was a young officer in the U.S. Army. When the anti-war movement evolved from calling us “baby killers” and “death merchants” to be a genuine peace movement, they were able to organize many of us out of the military—by treating us as humans—for which I have been eternally grateful.

Some churches opened their doors as sanctuaries to military personnel, such as myself, who eventually refused to fight in those wars. I remember going to coffee houses, often in churches, where young men were organized out of that tragedy. America lost that war, partly because an increasing number of military personnel refused to fight. We need such resistance at this time, in many different forms, and the protection of those most threatened.

Grace and peace,

Shepherd Bliss

Sanctuary Counties in the USA - Data for maps from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center


Sanctuary Counties in the USA - Data for maps from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center


Leave Sebastopol alone. It is not and should not be a sanctuary City. Keep our citizens safe.