Although the topic of immigration was not an agenda item at the regular city council meeting on Aug. 22, the topic took precedence during public comments at the beginning of the meeting. The chambers were packed with people and to accommodate the overflow of people, the city had them move into the office next door.
Prior to the public comments Mayor Richard O’Brien addressed the crowd and reflected on the past racial tensions in the 1950s and ‘60s and shared a few words from President John F. Kennedy.
“He addressed the disparity between whites, blacks, colors, different religions, and he gave some startling statistics,” stated O’Brien. “Those statistics have not changed since his statement in 1963. The disparity between black, white, and people of color, also those in minorities and religions remain the same. He did state that a right that you try to suppress on one individual diminishes the rights to all.”
St. Frances of Rome Father Misael Avila, along with several members of the community, spoke during public comments requesting that a resolution be made to protect the immigrants in the community. Avila explained that this is a very important issue and people are very afraid.
“What we are basically asking all of you to seriously consider is to pass a resolution basically saying that the police will not cooperate with immigration officials in deporting any immigrant unless that person has committed a serious crime,” stated Avila at the council meeting. “We want to make sure everyone feels welcome in our city regardless of legal status.”
A Riverbank resident for 27 years expressed that he recalled kindness given to him and his family when he first moved to Riverbank. He believes that if people feel safe they will report things and make the community a better place.
Another resident added that America’s original 13 colonies were founded by immigrants and that turning your back on immigrants seeking a better life runs counter to what the American dream is all about. He also stated that not all hard working immigrants should be treated as criminals.
A young woman walked up to the podium and with a shaky voice and watery eyes pleaded to the council to adopt policies that would not aid in terrorizing her community. Although she is an Oakdale resident, she is part of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) along with thousands of others. She explained that in a few weeks her future could be up for debate because there are people trying to get the DACA program abolished. Living in the United States for the past 17 years she came to the states when she was just three years old.
“We had a good turnout because they are afraid,” added Avila of the crowd that attended the council session. “I will not tell people there’s nothing to worry about if the city does not guarantee that they won’t be persecuted. I will not give them false hope with a resolution that won’t be implemented.”
There were comments about the police racial profiling and then cooperating with ICE and having those people deported.
Former Mayor Virginia Madueno spoke on behalf of the residents, urging the city council to adopt some sort of resolution or policy to help the people.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there that helps to fuel people’s fears,” stated Riverbank Police Services Chief Erin Kiely. “The bottom line is that we enforce laws regardless of immigration status and citizenship. If you drive DUI, rob someone, beat your significant other, etc. and we develop probable cause that you have done so, we’ll arrest you regardless of whether you are a U.S. Citizen or not. Once someone is in jail, whether ICE decides to pursue deportation or not is their prerogative.”
Another person spoke about the fact that his family member was deported after being released from jail and ICE picked him up and deported him. He also added that a wife had called the police due to domestic violence and she was picked up and deported.
“The misconception that we are arresting people out of their homes for immigration related matters is just that, a misconception,” added Kiely. “We are not seizing or arresting people at home, work, school, or etc. based upon anything to do with immigration status and the idea that we are doing so is wrong. Nobody is more aware, than the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department that our public safety effectiveness depends on maintaining the public’s trust and confidence in our impartiality.”
The people had many concerns and were pleading their case to the city council, many sharing heartfelt stories. Due to these concerns and comments at this meeting the council agreed to host a workshop regarding this issue in September.
“At the workshop we will hear from the proponents their concerns and their evidence of abusive enforcement of the immigration process,” said O’Brien. “We will hear from law enforcement, their processes and their perspective and we will listen to legal advice if we are to move forward with a sanctuary city.”
“We want to make sure that we hear from the concerned community members, law enforcement and other interested parties to get a full understanding of the issue,” stated Riverbank City Manager Sean Scully. “Obviously this is a very sensitive issue and it is important to the council it is treated carefully and respectfully. The safety and protection of all our community members is a bedrock value of our organization, thus we will take great care to make sure the community has the opportunity to express itself.”