There is never a dull day in local politics nor a day that goes by that I am not thankful and thrilled to be the South County representative on the Board of Supervisors. In addition to staying closely attentive to all happenings with the Pájaro River and its upcoming Bench Excavation, there are a number of projects that my office is working on. The two that I would like to highlight today relate to my stance on the county’s involvement in the Secure Communities program and my initiative to set a county-wide goal of planting 25,000 trees in Santa Cruz County.
Secure Communities is a federal program administered by the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division. The program was announced to the public in 2009 and advertised as an effective way to deport serious and violent criminal immigrants. Under the program, when someone is arrested for a crime, their fingerprints are scanned and sent to ICE. Upon finding a match in their system, which usually means that the person in question has been previously caught crossing the border, ICE then submits a detainer request in which the individual in question is detained for a 48-hour period.
The initiative was welcomed by state governments, which at that time reserved the right to opt in or not. Many, including California, signed memorandums of Understanding with the federal government, thereby agreeing to participate in the program at which point each California County would be given the opportunity to opt in or out of the program as they saw fit.
However, things didn’t go as planned. Almost immediately, the counties of San Francisco and Santa Clara decided that they did not want to participate. In the case of Santa Clara, federal representatives told them that it was OK for them to opt out and that they could set up a meeting to discuss how to do so. When that meeting came, different federal representatives now said that Santa Clara did not have the option of opting out. Frustrated, Santa Clara filed a Freedom of Information Act petition which provided emails with further inconsistencies, mixed messages, and a policy of making things up as they went. The feds have since also denied states the right to opt out as they have been very successful in deporting a record 396,906 persons over the past year.
Not to be mistaken, it is my intention that we continue to alert ICE when we apprehend serious and violent criminals. However, to deport someone who has been detained because of a traffic infraction, much less somebody who was merely suspected of a crime but never convicted, is an injustice I cannot tolerate. Deporting non-serious or violent criminals is a wonderful way to rupture the stability of already struggling families and has resulted in a number of children being placed in foster homes. Additionally, the Warren Institute at the UC Berkeley School of Law estimates that 3,600 citizens have been detained under the Secure Communities program.
As you can imagine, deportations most significantly impact the Watsonville area that I represent as we are a predominantly Mexican-American community. This 1930s-style racial profiling has no place in our county and we at the Board of Supervisors have been working with our sheriff and county council offices to ensure that we legally explore what say we have in the matter. A report back on the matter is due at our Dec. 6 Board meeting.
On a lighter note, I am crazy about trees and want to plant 25,000 of them in our county before my term as supervisor is up. Despite my love of all things immigrant, I plan to only plant native trees with a special emphasis on redwoods.
In fact, the project has already started. As many are probably aware, the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds has been facing great pressure recently from their local neighbors who have sited that the Fairgrounds’ festivities, most particularly those associated with the racing track, have generated an intolerable amount of noise. Working with Fair Director Michael Bethke, we intend to plant 800 trees, mostly sycamores, to muffle some of the noise being generated.
Many others, will join in on the fun too–the Boy Scouts, Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Watsonville, Watsonville Wetlands Watch, and a swath of individuals and families. The Community Restoration Project, which oversees work-release programs for youth on probation, will also be a key contributor to accomplishing our goal.
In addition to establishing new partnerships with public agencies and private organizations, we also hope to plant a number of trees on private residences, namely those in redwood territory. For less than a dollar a pop, we can plant redwood tube trees during mid-January or so, and the water they receive during this rainy season is more than enough to get them through this critical early phase and establish their roots long enough to survive.
Additionally, we intend to distribute donated seedlings or seedlings purchased with donated money to individuals attending farmers’ markets or other well-attended community gatherings. At these events, we will provide recipients with instructions on how to properly plant and care for their tree(s).
We do not merely intend to plant trees in the dirt, but also to plant ideas and attachments to nature in the next generation. My reasoning for embarking upon this project is in large part to build connections in the community and to focus attention on environmental concerns. I am very enthusiastic about this project and would love to talk further with like-minded enthusiasts ([email protected]). Until then…