A mural stands on the western wall of Pitzer College’s Stein Atrium, located in Benson Auditorium. Painted by Los Angeles artist Paul Botello in 1996, it depicts Pitzer students, faculty and staff protesting California Proposition 187, which disqualified undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits, including public healthcare and public education. A figure at the center of the image holds a sign that reads, “Unity. Tolerance. Love.”
Last Friday, Feb. 3, members of the Pitzer community gathered beside Botello’s mural to witness Claremont Mayor Samuel Pedroza sign a resolution affirming the city’s “long-standing commitment to diversity and safeguarding the civil rights, safety and dignity of all people.”
The Claremont City Council passed the resolution on Jan. 24 in a 3-1 vote with one abstention.
“Without student activism, we wouldn’t be here,” Pitzer Student Senate President Josue Pasillas PZ ’17 said at the beginning of the event, “and that is why this week we celebrate the student voice at Pitzer College. Here, the student voice is a catalyst for change.”
The resolution was initially proposed on Dec. 4 by Pitzer Senate Secretary Shivani Kavuluru PZ ’19, after Pitzer College declared itself a sanctuary college on Nov. 30.
“I thought we needed to write a resolution supporting undocumented students as well as the undocumented community in Claremont,” Kavuluru said in an interview with TSL. “It’s necessary for student organizations to let the community to know that we are here for them.”
While the original resolution calls for Claremont to be declared a sanctuary city, the resolution signed on Friday does not.
“We have a very active public,” Pedroza said. “We knew there would be some pushback, so we worked with staff and students to come up with language that was absolutely 100 percent defendable.”
Furthermore, according to Anne Turner, director of human services in Claremont, the legal definition of “sanctuary city” remains unclear. Turner worked with the city attorney to draft the resolution.
“Why would you ever commit, as a government institution, to a policy that has no definition?” Turner said. “By labeling yourself a sanctuary city, you’ve now put yourself in a box that you may not want to be in, especially when that becomes a defined term.
“By affirming values,” Turner continued, “you speak to the core of creating a safe place. You speak to the core of creating equality and inter-group harmony … And that is so much bigger.”
“The language in the resolution affirms the city’s commitment to diversity,” he said. “We shouldn’t focus on [the absence of] one word.”
Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali, who has lived in Claremont for 30 years, voted no on the resolution because he thinks immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government.
“Our effort should be to petition the federal government,” Nasiali said. “The federal government should have a comprehensive immigration law and policy … We can’t solve it here at our level.”
Nasiali would like the Claremont City Council to follow the lead of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and petition the federal government to support the BRIDGE Act, which seeks to preserve the DACA program. Nasiali made a motion to draft such a petition at the City Council meeting on Jan. 24, but it was defeated in favor of the resolution passed later that night.
“I support the DACA program 100 percent,” said Nasiali, who came to the United States on a student visa from Kenya in 1970. “Those people did not break immigration law.”
Meanwhile, Kavuluru continues to push for a sanctuary city. She is a member of Damage Control Action Network (DCAN), a 5C organization that is urging the City Council to pass an ordinance declaring Claremont a sanctuary city.
“Hopefully we will be able to persuade the City Council members that they are not going to be alone if they declare Claremont a sanctuary city,” Kavuluru said. “There are other cities doing this. Our little city of Claremont should be taking this stance with pride.”
But Kavuluru recognizes that declaring Claremont a sanctuary city could have negative consequences. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 that withholds federal funding from sanctuary cities. Claremont received about $491,000 in federal funds throughout 2015-16.
Although the resolution signed on Friday does not declare Claremont a sanctuary city, it affirms that “it is the past and current practice for the Claremont Police Department not to conduct immigration enforcement raids, and not question, detain, or arrest individuals solely on the basis of their being in the country illegally.”
The Claremont Committee on Human Relations, originally formed in 1996, reconvened following the 2016 presidential election. Modeled on the County of Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations, its purpose, as summarized by Turner, is to “create positive and peaceful intergroup relations.” Turner cited increased tensions in the community following the election, including a hate letter sent to a Pomona city mosque, as the impetus for reconvening the committee, which has played a less significant role in the city since 2009.
Other speakers at the signing included Nigel Boyle, Pitzer interim dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs; Norma Martinez, representative for Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis; Enrique Robles, caseworker manager and field representative; Congresswoman Judy Chu; Larry Schroeder, mayor pro tem; and Councilmember Joe Lyons.
Pitzer senior class president Chance Kawar PZ ’17 announced that the senior class gift will contribute to the Arnaldo Rodriguez Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid for undocumented and DACAmented Pitzer students.
Jose Calderon, Pitzer professor emeritus of sociology and Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies, also delivered remarks.
“The faces on this mural represent our targeted communities today,” he said. “The vote by the Claremont City Council was a big victory for our targeted communities and adds to the large number of cities, colleges, schools, churches, unions, and neighborhoods that are responding to a heightened tension and climate of fear created by policies emerging on a federal level.”