Friday, April 20 , 2018, 4:00 pm | Fair 63º


Local News


Santa Maria Officials Deny ‘Sanctuary City’ Status

Undocumented immigrant's arrest for homicide renews attention on northern Santa Barbara County

Santa Maria officials are proud of the designation as an All-America City, but strongly dispute the characterization it is a ‘sanctuary city.’
Santa Maria officials are proud of the designation as an All-America City, but strongly dispute the characterization it is a ‘sanctuary city.’ (Noozhawk file photo)

The violent attack by two men, one an undocumented immigrant, on an Air Force veteran sleeping in her home has renewed allegations that Santa Maria is a "sanctuary city," a label city officials have repeatedly denied.

City leaders have not adopted any resolutions, passed any ordinances or enacted any policies related to a so-called sanctuary city, yet the moniker has remained, City Manager Rick Haydon said. 

“It’s frustrating because there’s nothing substantive for our listing on any website as a sanctuary city,”  Haydon said. 

Yet, several websites list Santa Maria among sanctuary cities, a term used for communities that some say shelter undocumented immigrants. 

The issue arose again with the arrests of two men who allegedly attacked Marilyn Pharis, 64, in her northwest Santa Maria July 24.

She died eight days later in the hospital. One of the men is an undocumented immigrant, spurring discussion in the case.

Santa Maria’s policies are no different than neighboring communities, Haydon said.

“What we do is the same as the city of Santa Barbara, the same as the city of San Luis Obispo, the same as the city of Guadalupe. We’re no different than any other city on the Central Coast,” Haydon said.

The men charged with murder in this case, Victor Martinez Ramirez, 29, and Jose Villagomez, 20, are scheduled to appear in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria on Thursday.

Ramirez is an undocumented immigrant; Villagomez reportedly was born in the United States.

The Santa Barbara Tea Party and Culpepper Society is planning a protest at the Santa Maria Court Complex at noon Thursday, with organizers urging participants to make and bring signs saying “Congress: Stop sanctuary cities” and “Defund Sanctuary Cities.” 

Santa Maria leaders have tried more than once to get Santa Maria removed from the website for the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC, which says it based the 2008 listing on research by an activist. Santa Maria remains on the list with a note the city administrator has disputed the inclusion.

“It’s not a correct terminology that depicts our city,” Haydon said. “Why be labeled something that you’re not?”

Weeks before the July 24 attack on Pharis, Haydon said, he had written another letter seeking the removal of the Santa Maria. It remains listed. 

“There have been, for some reason, a lot inquiries to the council as to Santa Maria being a sanctuary city, and that’s what prompted me to take initiative and ask that our name be removed,” Haydon said. 

An undocumented immigrant’s July 6 fatal shooting of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle while she was on the Embarcadero in San Francisco renewed talks about the sanctuary cities.

Unlike Santa Maria, San Francisco adopted sanctuary city laws 26 years ago prohibiting employees from assisting federal workers with anything involving people’s immigration status, including honoring federal requests to detain those in the country illegally.

Central Coast law enforcement officers have said laws and court cases have led to not honoring detainer requests from the Immigration and Customers Enforcement.

Representatives of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, say they need a federal judge’s signature to hold inmates for immigration authorities, citing a court case that ruled local jurisdictions could be violating someone’s constitutional rights. 

Haydon suspects Santa Maria’s label stems from a movement by the Central Coast Minutemen Civil Defense Corps members who wanted the city to take action regarding immigration. The council declined.

“We keep telling them this isn’t a local government issue. It’s a federal government tissue,” Haydon said. 

Former Santa Maria resident Paula James, who helped start the Central Coast Minutemen, disagreed with local lawmakers’ contention this is a federal issue, saying law enforcement officers could enforce immigration much like they do federal crime of kidnapping and bank robbery. 

“It’s just a cop-out,” she said.

The Central Coast group isn’t active due to the current presidential administration’s policies, she said.

“We’re sort of dispersed with the fact we have a president who refuses to enforce our immigration laws,” said James, a Texas resident.

Living in Texas, she has relatives in Santa Maria Valley and said she worries for their safety. 

The matter is getting some federal attention.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is asking the Department of Homeland Security for details on the Ramirez case and the agency’s interactions with local law enforcement agencies.

“Clearly, there has been a total breakdown in cooperation between local and federal law enforcement that allowed this alleged killer to be released and, despite his lengthy and violent criminal record, never deported,” Grassley said in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The senator quoted Police Chief Ralph Martin statement to reporters from last week:

“I am not remiss to say that from Washington, D.C., to Sacramento, there's a blood trail into the bedroom of Marilyn Pharis.” 

Grassley added, “Clearly, sanctuary city policies are wreaking havoc on citizens, and especially on women.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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