Measure K, a proposed ordinance to make Humboldt County a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, swung into positive territory shortly after 1 a.m., having trailed most of the night.
According to Humboldt County’s final election night report, voting showed 51.56 percent in favor of the measure and 48.44 percent opposed to it with 87 of 144 precincts reporting.
The ordinance made a huge gain after trailing in the first report, which showed nearly 55 percent in opposition early in the evening. The comeback was marked by a stark contrast in how people voted by mail-in ballot versus in the voting booth.
The ordinance, if passed, would mandate the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office to report to the county twice a year on its communications with federal immigration authorities. It carries other policies to “protect” undocumented immigrants, like ensuring deported parents have a say in where their children end up and disallowing county employees from discussing another person’s immigration status.
“There’s a lot of empowerment in working toward this,” said Elizabeth Phillips, one of the most vocal sanctuary advocates and a member of local activist group Centro del Pueblo.
“When we look back at history, a lot of change has come on the backs of brown and black women,” she said. “So many people need to gain access to their own voice.”
Pro-Measure K activists did their part to ensure the ordinance stayed in the public conversation. Local faith leaders voiced their support at public events in front of the county courthouse. On Sunday, supporters marched from Fortuna to Eureka before celebrating with a live band performance in honor of Día de los Muertos.
Centro del Pueblo held an open forum in late October, packing a Humboldt State University lecture hall with supporters — save for Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal, who vocally maintained his opposition to the measure.
Honsal said the ordinance would hinder his officers’ work. The concept of a sanctuary is a false promise to the undocumented, he warned, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could still swoop in to detain individuals whenever they wish.
While activists insisted the measure would allow undocumented people to feel safe in seeking emergency services, Honsal maintained he doesn’t care about anyone’s immigration status, but “serious and violent” felons have no place in the county.
Across social media, reports of the ordinance raised heated debate. Several Eureka City Council candidates justified their lack of support for the measure with the notion that the U.S. is a “nation of laws.”
All of that represents an ongoing effort to convince people that immigrants, even undocumented ones, are not the problem, Phillips said.
“We’re all fighting for a piece of the pie,” she said. “The world is hard for white people, too. They’ve been working hard, seeing their paychecks and pensions get cut, and now they’re hearing they have to share with all these others? But eventually, sharing the pie creates friends and allies. You gain access to the strength and power of other communities.”
“This isn’t just a ballot measure or campaign,” Phillips said. “These are our lives. We won’t give up.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.