published on February 2, 2017 - 5:29 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
Looking to curtail a wave of worries among undocumented immigrants and criticism over his comments that Fresno wouldn’t become a sanctuary city, Mayor Lee Brand said in a press conference this morning that those concerns are unwarranted.


The newly-minted mayor told reporters gathered in front of the Fresno City Council chambers that as long as he’s in office, “I will support the policy of our police department to treat every person of Fresno equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic or immigration status.”

He also noted that city leaders have no plans to roll back the Fresno Police Department’s Policy 428, a 15-year old directive that, among other things, prohibits officers from enforcing violations of federal immigration law or allowing undocumented status to be the only basis to contact, detain or arrest people.

“And finally, Fresno police do not conduct immigration sweeps, detain residents suspected of being undocumented or arrest anyone because they are not an American citizen,” said Brand, who was flanked by Fresno City Council members Esmeralda Soria and Oliver L. Baines, along with nearly a dozen community officials, including police Chief Jerry Dyer.

At the start of his speech, Brand said the reason for the press conference was “to set the record straight and to calm the fears and anxieties of so many people in our community who feel threatened by the flurry of announcements and actions coming from Washington, DC and Sacramento regarding immigration.

President Donald Trump’s actions to make good on his campaign promises to crack down on undocumented immigrants and deport them have been of particular concern.

About 400 cities and other communities in the U.S. — Los Angeles and San Francisco among them — have self designated as “sanctuary cities,” a loosely-defined term meaning they offer varying types of assistance and protections to undocumented immigrants. In some areas that includes setting up legal defense funds to fight deportation and policies to prevent police agencies from asking people if they’re undocumented and reporting those who are to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Trump also has threatened to hold back federal funding to communities that don’t cooperate with ICE on immigration enforcement.

Brand became embroiled in the issue after making comments last week to the Fresno Bee’s editorial board in which he said he wouldn’t risk the loss of federal dollars earmarked for Fresno transportation projects by making it a sanctuary city.

“My philosophy is to follow the law and to avoid these national culture-war questions,” the mayor is quoted as telling the newspaper.

Ariana Martinez Lott, a resident of Fresno and the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants who later became U.S. citizens, said the comments by Brand printed in the Bee last week deeply worried documented and undocumented Fresno residents she knows.

“It was a disappointment being left out and alone from somebody who was supposed to be our representative,” she said, adding that it seemed the mayor was prioritizing dollars for the city over the welfare of people.

Brand’s comment also triggered a protest outside City Hall on Friday, with Soria among the protesters.

She said she later contacted Brand to discuss what was said and was satisfied that the mayor’s words were misunderstood, and not a sign that he wanted to curtail city policies that keep police out of immigration enforcement.

Soria also organized a meeting on Tuesday at City Hall with representatives of community groups and individuals tied to the local immigrant community.

At the meeting was Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, who said that some at the meeting had “asks” of the mayor that included:

•    Backtracking on his statements on Fresno not becoming a sanctuary city
•    Setting up a city office of immigration
•    Including people with ties to immigrant groups and residents among his advisors

“Not just people who look like us, but represent our community,” Nekumanesh said.

For his part, the mayor didn’t back down on his commitment to not make Fresno a sanctuary city, noting that nobody has clearly defined what that is, and the city’s policy on how police treat suspected undocumented immigrants already is similar to what some self-described sanctuary cities are doing.

When asked if he would call Fresno a sanctuary city without the actual title, he told reporters he wouldn’t use such a label.

While Brand made no mention of creating an immigration office, he did say he would bring aboard advisors with ties to the local immigrant community.

While that’s not all he wanted, Nekumanesh said the mayor’s decision was a good start.

“I think that some of the asks we have are going to take longer to get. We’re going to work on these asks.”

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