Protecting rights, including immigrant rights, absolutely must be a core service of the county

By Jason Baker
Published in The Mercury News: March 18, 2018.

Santa Clara County government has a wide range of responsibilities: roads and transportation, parks and libraries, housing and public health, public safety and disaster preparedness. With the Trump administration running the federal government, we must recognize another critical core service: fighting to protect our residents. We must stand with those resisting the daily wrongs inflicted by Washington.

The Trump administration is quite plainly resolved to use the power of the federal government to deport, demonize, and deny the rights of immigrants in our country — and with more than 700,300 immigrants in Santa Clara County, or 38 percent of our population, we must ask ourselves “What can county government do to protect our immigrant neighbors?”

Some would define the role of Santa Clara County narrowly, and claim that immigrants’ rights are irrelevant. Others advocate for a focused and more active role providing service and support for immigrants. I am proud to be among those who believe our county has a duty to protect and serve all our residents, not just some: Protecting rights, including immigrant rights, absolutely must be a core service of the county.

The federal government is wreaking havoc in Santa Clara County, targeting immigrants, tearing families apart, preventing families from re-uniting, and making our communities less safe in the process. Immigrants are afraid to report crime and abuse, afraid to testify as witnesses, or even drop their kids off at school. Trump is desperate to crush the hopes of Dreamers and incite fear, racism, and violence. We have a moral responsibility to fight back, individually, as a community, and as a local government.

Fortunately, groups like SIREN (Services Immigrant Rights & Education Network,, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations,, PACT (People Acting in Community Together,, and others are leading the fight, effectively and tirelessly. They should get superhero capes, and they deserve our support.

Community groups cannot be left to go it alone, however. When the federal government is enabling and facilitating harm –- whether on the environment, health care or immigrant rights — it is local and state government that must stand up and fight for what is right. That’s what good government does. And there is no substitute for the impact of local government standing alongside immigrants and reaffirming their rights, safety, and access to health care and social services.

I’m extraordinarily proud of our robust Santa Clara County Office of Immigrant Relations for recently launching an important campaign called “One County One Future” to make sure all residents know what services are available to them. We also have a county board that supports using county resources to go to court when necessary to protect our residents from Trump’s frequent trespasses against the Constitution, and we’re helping connect immigrants in need with free legal support. But it would be a mistake to take this level of courage and support for granted.

It’s easy to take the view that our county should provide just basic services and stop there, but we’re better than that. We’re braver than that. Preserving principles and rights is part of who we are as a country. Good government means going beyond a narrow view and working to ensure that every member in our community has the resources it needs to lead a life of dignity, opportunity, safety, and security, regardless of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or immigration status. Those rights are not ancillary – they are an essential part of who we are and what we stand for. They are fundamental and worth prioritizing in our hearts, in our words and actions, and yes, with our budget.

Jason Baker is the former Mayor of Campbell.