The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors today voted to move forward with a resolution voicing support racial and ethnic diversity in the local community and vowing to defend the civil rights of local residents regardless of their immigration status. 

The last time this matter came before the board, back in March, the supervisors opted to wait until the county’s Human Rights Commission came forward with a draft resolution. The committee did just that today (read the draft here), but after some almost unanimously supportive public comment the board voted to set up an ad hoc committee, comprised of Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell and Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson, to fine-tune the language of the ordinance and bring it back at a later date.

Public comment on the matter got off on a strange foot with a woman, whose name we didn’t catch, promising she wasn’t racist before speaking at length about the importance and symbolism of the American flag. (To her, the white represents purity, she said.) She stressed the importance of immigrants coming to our country legally and demanded to know what the flag represents to each of the supervisors, calling each out by name.

But the remainder of the dozen public speakers all voiced support for the resolution, with many saying the language should be stronger. Renee Saucedo, who works with the local Latino community through the group Centro del Pueblo, said there is “absolute terror” in the community due to the threat of deportation from agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ICE).

“There is racially motivated bullying in our schools,” Saucedo said. “People feel isolated and afraid. … I believe this resolution is an excellent first step, but you absolutely need to take further action to address the isolation and terror” felt by local Latinos, she said. She urged the board to pass a sanctuary resolution, as many local jurisdictions have since the election of President Donald Trump, vowing not to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration actions.

A woman named Racquel argued that last week’s stabbing murder in Arcata shows that racism exists locally and she said passing the resolution is “the compassionate thing to do.”

Eric Kirk, a local attorney, said the country’s currently immigration laws are “archaic” and could become “the new Jim Crow.” Of particular concern, he said, is that the U.S. doesn’t have a consistent policy regarding what happens to children whose parents are deported. Some have taken the stand that it’s better for kids to remain in the U.S., particularly if they’re citizens, Kirk said, but he argued that such policies “should be universally opposed” in favor of reunification. 

When the matter came back to the board, Fennell took the opportunity to respond to the flag question, saying that to her it represents freedom. Fennell noted that she wasn’t born in this country but went through the legal process to become a citizen. As for the Human Rights Commission’s draft resolution, Fennell said she doesn’t believe it “fit the bill” and suggested reworking it. When Board Chair Virginia Bass asked, perhaps jokingly, whether she was volunteering to serve on an ad hoc committee for that purpose, Fennell said she’d be very happy to “because I feel pretty passionate about it.”

Wilson voiced support for the message of the draft but questioned the legal ramifications of some of the wording, which includes a list of things the supervisors “shall” do. He suggested moving the drafting process on to staff or a subcommittee.

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said he didn’t see how the resolution’s promises differed from what the county’s already doing, to which Bass said it’s a statement of principle. 

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, returning to the theme of overt patriotism, likened the resolution to saying the Pledge of Allegiance before each meeting, and he said that with so many dairies in his district he knows the value of the immigrant community. “There’s nobody to fill those jobs if they didn’t,” he said.

But Bohn cautioned against going so far as to declare Humboldt a sanctuary county, noting that Lansing, Mich., recently backed out of declaring itself a sanctuary city in light of threats from Trump about denying federal funding to such jurisdictions.

“A small rural county can’t take the chance to lose federal funding,” Bohn said.

Wilson earned some light applause by countering, “I don’t want us to feel bullied by political vindictiveness at the federal level.” If local jurisdictions start basing policy on such scare tactics, he said, the nation will be headed “in a very bad direction.”

(Side note: Shortly after the meeting a federal judge blocked enforcement of Trump’s executive order punishing sanctuary cities.)

Before moving on, Fennell said it behooves county leaders not to “feed the fear” present in the immigrant community and instead let people know what support systems and resources are available.

In other business, the board voted 4-1 to reappoint local pilot David Ravetti to an at-large position on the Aviation Advisory Committee. Bohn cast the lone vote of dissent after advocating for pharmacy owner and hobby pilot Robert Lima. Bohn said he “likes variation” and likes to “support change once in awhile,” but the rest of the board sided with Ravetti, noting his wealth of experience.