Learning AP style is tough but necessary in college journalism. While on deadline, this student called my attention to the AP stylebook entry that discouraged use of the term, undocumented immigrants. I was unaware of this, but was certain that I had already read the phrase countless times in news stories. So I suggested to my student to replace “immigrants” with “people” or “populations.” Kudos to her meticulous approach!
By Ashley Loaeza
These are all Bay Area sanctuary cities. But what about Concord?
In 2011, Contra Costa County housed 79,000 undocumented people, the majority of whom were in the county’s largest city: Concord.
According to Data USA statistics, as of 2015, only 85.6 percent of Concord residents were U.S.citizens, compared with the national average of 93 percent.
In 2014, the percentage of U.S. citizens in Concord was 85.8 percent, meaning that the rate of citizenship there has been declining.
When it comes to immigration, “Concord is committed to ensuring that all people residing, working, visiting or passing through the city feel safe, supported and treated with dignity, equality and respect, ” as indicated in Resolution 17-73.
Also known as the Inclusion Law, Resolution 17-73 was passed by Concord City Council members in September to reassure community members that the city does not enforce federal immigration laws. This includes not detaining nor arresting suspects based on their immigration status nor allowing federal immigration officials to access nonpublic areas of city property without a warrant.
In addition, the city does not use any E-verify system to determine the work eligibility of applicants for city employment.
Resolution 17-73 is unique compared with other city resolutions, as it not only protects immigrants, but all vulnerable communities by denouncing hate speech against immigrants, Muslims and LGBTQ individuals.
Concord has not declared itself a sanctuary city, but as the city in the county with the highest population of undocumented people, there are different views as to whether or not the city should do so.
“There’s no need for us to declare Concord a sanctuary city,” says Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger.“The term sanctuary has become political, and our goal is not just to protect immigrants, but to protect everyone regardless of education, social or immigration status. Our goal is to protect everyone.”
He added, “There is no issue if residents abide by the law.”
With the company of the mayor and city manager, Chief Swanger met with concerned citizens who became fearful due to the political dialogue and national attention on immigration.
“We feel that the best way to embrace and make our residents comfortable is to not engage in polarizing political discourse,” says Assistant City Manager Kathleen Trepa who assisted with the final preparation of the resolution. “We spent many months working with communities that feel that they may be at risk to assure them as to what the policies and procedures are and to assure them that they are valued members of this community and that they and safe here.”
Although city officials do not feel as though Concord should necessarily become a sanctuary city, there are many organizations and programs in Concord that believe that the city should declare sanctuary.
Raise the Roof is a coalition that includes theAlliance of Californians for Community Empowerment,the California Nurses Association, the Contra Costa Labor Council, First 5 Contra Costa, The East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Monument Impact and a number of other organizations.
The East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, also known as EBASE, is a group of Concord renters, homeowners, workers, faithleaders and supporters who are working to bring jobs,protections to undocumented people and affordable housing to the city.
It was because of their efforts that Resolution 17-73 was passed.
Through drafting and proposing the original resolution, meeting with the mayor and city council members, collecting letters of support from businesses and petition signatures from the broader community, Raise the Roof was able to win a unanimous city council vote.
Over 2,500 people who live, work or do business in Concord signed petitions urging the city to pass this resolution, while more than 60 business owners and leaders signed letters urging the city to take action.
“As the largest city in Contra Costa County,it is vital that Concord took this step in affirming their dedication to protecting immigrants in our community,” says Nicole Zapata, who is the community organizer for EBASE.
According to Zapata, more than 40,000 Concord residents, or 30 percent of the city’s population, were born in foreign countries.
Apart from disentanglement with ICE and police, housing is also an issue and fear in Concord with undocumented people.
“Housing is a main issue for residents of Concord, with the Monument corridor being the most populated area of the city,” says Zapata.
According to a 2015 case study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, the Monument neighborhood in Concord makes up 12 percent of the total area in the city and is the most populated region in Concord. About 43 percent of Monument residents were born abroad or are non-naturalized. In addition, residents in Monument are significantly poorer than the rest of the city.
In 2013, Monument had a poverty rate of 23 percent, which is twice the poverty rate of the city, which stood at 9 percent.
Concord currently has a rent mediation program where tenants who get hit by rent hikes of more than 10 percent within a year may seek mediation.
According to Zapata, community advocates believe that the threshold for rent increases is too high, and rent control is needed to truly protect our communities.
The program also leaves many tenants out of the equation. Single-family homes, condos, townhomes and mobile homes are all excluded from the program.
The city also has a multi-family inspection program where people can report complaints about their living conditions to the city for inspection.
Many residents feel the program does not go far enough in protecting vulnerable tenants, like undocumented people, who may put themselves at risk of retaliation fromlandlords, whether it be through eviction or deportation, after filing a complaint.
“In the wake of Trump’s decision to end DACA and Temporary Protected Status, the threat of deportation is real and communities are living in great fear,” says Zapata.
In addition to Raise the Roof, there are many programs and organizations that cater specifically to undocumented people in Concord, such as the Catholic Charities of the East Bay which offers immigration help.
“If we look at the definition of sanctuary city, there isn’t a real definition,” says Joseline Gonzalez, who is the outreach coordinator of the immigration program in the Catholic Charities of the East Bay’s Concord office. She conducts presentations throughout the community that explain the rights of undocumented people. “It’s more of no collaboration or having a limited amount of collaboration with federal or local officials.”
Their program aims to help undocumented people with a wide range of services, such as legal consultations, family-based visa petitions and naturalization workshops. Most of their services are free. It is one of few programs in Concord that offers legal services to undocumented people.
“Immigrants who live here don’t have a lot of resources or don’t know what benefits they could qualify for,” says Gonzalez. “We have to have a sanctuary city (designation) to make the community safer, and we need to remind everybody that there needs to be more resources out there for them.”