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Santa Rosa Commissioners call proposed immigration resolution a 'political stunt'

Grace Resendez McCaffery speaks at the Santa Rosa County Commissioner meeting Monday, June 24
Screenshot by WUWF Public Media
Grace Resendez McCaffery speaks at the Santa Rosa County Commissioner meeting on Monday, June 24.

Calling it a “political stunt,” Santa Rosa County Commissioners voted down James Calkins’ proposed resolution to ban “illegal aliens” from the county. After the language was amended by Chairman Sam Parker, the motion still failed to pass with a 3-2 vote.

La Costa Latina Newspaper owner and activist, Grace Resendez McCaffery, spoke with a handful of residents asking the board to vote against the resolution.

"Immigration is a complex system," she said during public comments. "As undocumented immigrants' statuses change, they become students, business owners, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and even serve in our military. Immigrants are also victimized. Violence against Latinos is not uncommon especially when it is provoked by fear and hatred."

Esmeralda Quiroz, a Santa Rosa County resident, said she feared how her family would be treated if the resolution came to pass. Her husband is currently undocumented — brought to the United States as a child.

“Would they treat my kids differently? Will we be able to speak Spanish without someone saying ‘Get out of our country?’” she said.

Quiroz said she and her husband were scammed out of $25,000 trying to fix his immigration status. They are now working through the process with local immigration attorney Aida Ramirez. She said she is hopeful that the executive actions signed last week by President Joe Bidenmay allow the family to share “the same nationality.” The Keeping American Families Together action allows noncitizens who have resided in the U.S. for 10 years or more and are legally married to a U.S. citizen to apply for lawful permanent residence.

RELATED: Santa Rosa Commissioner Calkins brings forward book bans and pro-life issues, called out for political grandstanding

Commissioner Calkins, who is running for re-election, said the resolution was in response to a message he received from a citizen claiming that 120 “illegal aliens” were dropped off at the Love’s gas station on I-10. And he accused dissenting commissioners of being RINO (Republican in Name Only).

“What can I do about that? We can only do so much, but at least we can put out a message saying illegal aliens are not welcome in Santa Rosa County,” Calkins said.

District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright said that while he is concerned about immigration in the state and nationwide, the resolution is nothing but “empty words” and that time should be spent figuring out solutions to issues such as infrastructure, land development, and recreation.

“I’m shutting this crap down,” he said. “This is absolutely empty … This is just an effort to divide people, create discontent, create hate, and label people.”

District 2 Commissioner Kerry Smith said he had followed up on the reports of immigrants at the Love’s gas station and confirmed it was a group traveling to South Florida.

“You can shut up,” Smith said at one point, raising his voice. “You have no clue how to govern anything.”

Both Smith and Wright said the issue of immigration was for law enforcement to handle.

Ray Eddington, Commissioner for District 4, said he took issue with the language of the resolution saying people need to be given a chance. Chairman Sam Parker amended language to say that the county does not support illegal immigration versus announcing that illegal immigrants were not welcome in the county. He also suggested language encouraging President Biden to take action on securing the southern border.

In the end, the motion failed to pass with only Calkins and Parker voting yes. Commissioner Wright did suggest drafting a letter expressing concern about the federal government’s handling of immigration, which could be discussed in the future.

“I will 100% support that, and I’ll be glad to sign that,” said Wright. “I just can’t be part of this stunt. All this is is an effort for one person to try to make themselves look good and make others look bad.”

McCaffery said she was relieved to see the resolution did not pass.Discrimination against the Latino communitycontinues to be an issue.

“The concern is always the backlash and potential harassment (of the Latino community),” she said over the phone after the meeting. “I hope Commissioners look into immigration policies — the laws are changing constantly — before they draft a letter.”

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.