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Petaluma stands up to injustice

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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

— Quote from Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

— Then presidential candidate Donald Trump

Just days before Americans celebrated the 242nd birth of a nation founded upon the principles of liberty, equality and justice, hundreds of Petalumans took to the streets to call attention to the injustice wrought by their own government against immigrant families. Joining millions of others across the country, Petaluma demonstrators peacefully demanded an end to the inhumane practice, sanctioned by President Trump, of separating thousands of children from their parents at the U.S. border and imprisoning them in cages indefinitely while their moms and dads await trial at severely back-logged immigration courts. We applaud them for speaking out and seeking to stop this senseless cruelty.

The protesters represent the conscience of our community and our country which, despite the President’s vile rhetoric, remains compassionate and fair-minded with respect to the immigration issue. Most people here in Petaluma view their hate-mongering president as wholly unfit to serve.

They see through his lies about immigrants and keenly recognize that attempts to foment fear and appeal to the underlying bigotry among lesser principled Americans are an age-old populist tactic designed to get votes. In this case, Trump is seeking to maintain Republican control of both houses of Congress in the November mid-term elections.

Here in Petaluma, most local voters, and not just registered Democrats, have done their homework on the immigration debate. They recognize that immigrants have made California and Sonoma County stronger, both economically and culturally. They understand the long history of California’s migrant farmworkers who, under Congressional authorization, were brought here during World War II to solve the problem of severe labor shortages, and how the state’s agricultural economy has since become almost entirely dependent upon foreign labor.

Most Petalumans understand that the growing and harvesting of the state’s crops, including wine grapes, is achieved principally by citizens from Mexico and other Central American countries who are not legally authorized to be here.

Some of those responsible for keeping the state’s $48 billion agricultural industry humming live right here in Petaluma. Their fellow Petalumans, most of whom tend to stay well informed on the issues of the day, know that California’s undocumented immigrants are here because they are seeking work to escape poverty or avoid political oppression in strife torn Central American countries, and because California’s economy relies upon their labor.

Given the Petaluma Valley’s reliance on the hard work, family ethos and the many community contributions from the area’s sizable Hispanic population, the President’s recent statements and actions are deeply resented by most local residents who instead favor sensible, compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes the inherent worth of every human being.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Press Democrat, an overwhelming majority of Sonoma County residents also believe that “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, should be allowed to stay in the country. Yet because of inaction by the Trump administration, these young people endeavoring to be good students and employees have been left in limbo.

DACA, a popular Obama-era program that allowed Dreamers to stay in the U.S. to study or work, provided they met certain criteria and had no serious criminal conviction, is now on hold.

Against this dismal injustice, the President has played election year politics. In yet another false claim, Trump was recently quoted saying that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our country, like MS-13,” a reference to a violent criminal gang based in Central America. Such an absurd falsehood may have been welcomed by racists in other parts of the country who comprise Trump’s base, but it was not well received here in Petaluma.

This community’s Congressman, Jared Huffman, was on hand last weekend to add his voice to those of the protesters and pledge his commitment to effect positive change. His remarks were encouraging.

But whether a more just outlook is achieved on the national stage will likely be determined by the mid-term elections in November where it’s hoped that Huffman will be joined by more principled elected officials willing to forge equitable and humane policies respecting immigration reform. Or, at the very least, a Congressional majority able to thwart Trump’s abhorrent programs.

For now, we are proud of Petalumans’ commitment to this important cause. It’s heartening to know that compassion and a strong commitment to justice is alive and well in our community.