Students Push for Claremont to Declare Itself a Sanctuary City
Jonathan Chai-Chang Azterbaum | Feb. 3, 2017, 10:38 a.m.
“Migrant rights are human rights!” chanted a large crowd of 5C students and community members. “USA! USA!” responded another, significantly smaller group, many of its members wearing red, white, and blue Trump apparel. This heated interaction was the landscape of the Claremont City Council meeting last Tuesday, Jan. 24.
In a 3-1 vote with one abstention, council members passed a resolution “affirming the city’s commitment to diversity and safeguard the civil rights, safety and dignity of all people.”
While the resolution did not explicitly mention sanctuary cities (cities that have pledged to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation), it states that the City of Claremont will continue its practice of “not enforcing federal immigration law.”
109 people spoke at the meeting, where the resolution proved contentious in the wake of Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Filling the city hall chambers, the lobby outside, and the viewing room upstairs, 5C students represented the majority of the over 200 attendees present.
Several audience members clenched posters reading “God Bless Trump” and “No Human Being is Illegal” as the packed room heard testimony from speakers of diverse political beliefs.
Raul Rodriguez, Jr., a Latino member of We the People Rising, greeted attendees with a banner reading, “STOLEN LIVES.” Featuring the faces of three white citizens, including a police officer, who had allegedly been killed by “illegal aliens,” this poster was reflective of the views of the vocally anti-immigrant, pro-Trump group.
According to Pitzer College Student Senate President Josue Pasillas PZ ’19, the Student Senate was the first organization to request that the city of Claremont become a sanctuary city through a resolution delivered to the mayor, city manager, and city council on Dec. 4.
“Our resolution specifically asked that Claremont designate itself as a sanctuary city, and sanctuary city was left out of the resolution totally,” Pasillas said. “But we still think that this was a step in the right direction, and we’ll continue to work with city leaders to see what else we can do to stand up against any hate.”
Senate Secretary Shivani Kavuluru PZ ’19 co-authored the sanctuary city resolution with Pasillas. Kavuluru also works with the 5C student group Damage Control Action Network (DCAN), “a student political organization dedicated to countering harmful policies in Trump’s agenda at the local governmental level, dealing primarily with the Claremont and Pomona city councils, through student mobilization and coalition building with existing community organizations,” according to their Facebook group description.
Kavuluru reaffirmed her resolve to pass the resolution in the wee hours of Wednesday morning:
“I’m here today, and I will keep coming again and again, because I believe that the city of Claremont has a responsibility to protect all of its community members,” Kavuluru said at the meeting.
Many students from DCAN, Young Progressives Demanding Action (YPDA), and allied students demanded that the city pass an ordinance to protect undocumented people in the city of Claremont. Having assembled over 900 petition signatures to support the creation of an official ordinance, DCAN organizer Shayok Chakraborty PO ’19 and others were resolute about this goal.
“We want assurances that local police and agencies won’t go after undocumented students,” Chakraborty said. “They’re talking about affirming diversity and all that kind of stuff, but it’s just weak. Honestly, it’s weak as hell. In [the city of] Pomona, they had a similar resolution pass, and they’re still cooperating with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” he said.
“So while Claremont doesn’t do that, we don’t want to have that risk. We’re trying to get an ordinance passed that is strong and effective, that keeps Claremont from cooperating with the federal government on immigration,” Chakraborty said.
With numerous scuffles between students and members of Upland for Trump, We the People United, Beach Cities Republicans, and allied attendees, the meeting at City Hall proved especially difficult for undocumented people present.
“There was a guy with a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat who literally pushed me and yelled at me … We ended up warning the people of IDEAS to stay away until the actual item came up,” said Daniela Nicole Sada PO ’19, president of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success (IDEAS), a 5C student organization aiming “to foster a vibrant community for immigrants and help bring increased awareness of immigrant struggles to the Claremont Colleges,” according to their Facebook page.
Sada also mentioned that the event was dominated by “allies,” leaving her unable to reach the signup forms which would have given her the opportunity to speak at the event.
“My friends who know I’m undocumented looked at me in the eyes and pushed me away. It was really upsetting,” Sada said. “It’s great that there were allies there to voice their concerns and to witness something happen and to show their support. But there were other allies who ended up taking too much space, like physically, emotionally, and voice-wise.”
Sada also shared her concerns about the rising “sanctuary city” trend, pointing to some of the flaws that she and her undocumented peers feel about the phenomena.
“Everyone’s like, ‘yip yip hooray sanctuary city!’ but in reality, it doesn’t mean anything … We’re really scared that the sanctuary city thing is a fad—that we have to be one of those hip places that supports undocumented students. I’m scared that it will become a nationwide fad, and that’ll be where it stops,” she said.
“Even after the ‘sanctuary city’ vote thing, I don’t feel much safer. I really don’t. I’m glad to see that there’s so much overwhelming support,” Sada said. “But it’s a momentary satisfaction, and I still feel like I’m in so much danger.”
Claremont Mayor Sam Pedroza is slated to sign the resolution in a formal ceremony this Friday, Feb. 3 at 12 p.m. at Pitzer College. Congresswoman Judy Chu will also attend the ceremony.