Visions of Long Beach’s Sanctuary City

Mar. 13, 2018 / By

Above, Dreamer Norberto Lopez smiles before a meeting at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, an immigrant-friendly sanctuary. Photo: Michael Lozano

The word “sanctuary” has been thrown around a lot in recent months — but what does it actually mean?

In California, the term has so far come to be defined by the California Values Act (Senate Bill 54), which prohibits state and local law agencies from acting in any way like immigration enforcement, in effect curtailing deportations of undocumented persons.

With the act now in effect as of Jan. 1, police can not inquire about someone’s immigration status. State or local enforcement can neither pass on certain information to Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Today, the Long Beach city council is set to vote on its own sanctuary policy, activists say, “to fill in the holes” and provide further certain protections. Some of the things advocates are hoping for include:


  • Establishing a Deportation Defense Fund.
  • Prohibiting police collaboration with ICE, except in extreme cases such as human trafficking.
  • Prohibiting city resources from being used to assist with deportations.
  • Preventing all city agencies, such as the health department, from sharing sensitive information with ICE.


The current proposal is the outcome of monthslong deliberations between city agencies and various community groups making up the Sanctuary Long Beach Coalition. Advocates are feeling optimistic.

“We did some huelgas (marches) and it did work because California is now a sanctuary,” says Maria Luisa Pulido Vargas, a Long Beach immigrant from Mexico. “But we want more because in reality we need more protection. We need for the city to support us.”

“Without their help, it’s going to be a bit harder to achieve victory.”

Below, we ask four immigrant family members what their ideal vision for a sanctuary city entails.


Astrid Quirarte

17, student at LBUSD. Parents left Mexico City in 1985 and lived undocumented in U.S.

The ideal sanctuary vision would be the city giving immigrants the opportunity to be themselves, the opportunity to be treated as equals and the opportunity to be able to have the same resources as everyone else because they are just as hard working.

A lot of people don’t understand what the immigrant struggle is like. A lot of people accuse immigrants of being lazy, just relying on social welfare saying that they don’t pay taxes. The reality is my mom paid taxes while being undocumented, and she didn’t expect anything in return. A lot of people just aren’t educated on what it’s like to grow up in an immigrant household.

When my aunt came also from Mexico, she was undocumented and she was a hotel worker.

A lot of times, she was facing inequalities at work and complaints, and she was always afraid to speak up about it. She always let it slide because she didn’t want to get in trouble, because there would be repercussions.

Undocumented people need to really feel safe going to police stations knowing that the police isn’t going to be collaborating with ICE. Sanctuary policies are actually going to enhance public safety. So many people refuse to go to the hospital or report any crime against them for the fear of any repercussions.


Maria Luisa Pulido Vargas

43, mother, worker, and student living in downtown Long Beach. Left Zacatecas, Mexico in 1994. Has work permit and is fixing green card.

If we had sanctuary, people would feel more secure, have the freedom to even go to the store without so much fear — same thing for going to the schools, just as people avoid going to hospitals for fear of being arrested by immigration. It would be ideal if all the city was a sanctuary.


I know people who say they feel fear… when even a police merely drives by them, especially now with recent talk about more tough immigration policies. They feel it more.


As for going into schools, I truthfully have a ton of fear, as do many people. More than anything, it is because of the fear that is felt by the children. Our children, if they see us worried then they can’t even concentrate in school. They are worried about la migra taking their papas. That’s what worries me most… The children fear we will get arrested.

The most healthiest thing would be to have sanctuary. That way, the mothers can feel more free to visit schools with the papas and the children would feel more libres being in school.

Safir Wazed

28, Master’s Student in Business Strategy at USC, living in East Long Beach. Left Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1997. Currently protected under DACA program.

In a sanctuary city, we’d have a working economy driven by diversity, where your status doesn’t matter but you’re nonetheless a contributor — and it works; where everyone’s protected regardless.


Long Beach is one of the most inclusive places I ever seen. Regardless of the immigration climate, it’s always been very open to everybody… That goes from authorities all the way to residents and everyone in between.


Here, everyone believes we’re all trying to work hard and contribute… It’s not let’s work towards a sanctuary city — we’re already a prime example of a great template of a sanctuary city that works.


Norberto Lopez

23, activist based in Long Beach for past decade. From Guadalajara, Mexico. Left at age 1 in 1995. Has DACA.

By becoming a sanctuary city these residents will be protected and be feeling safe in their home.

Sanctuary to me is where there’s not a collaboration between the police dept and ICE. Where you don’t hear about deportations… A safe city where families can stay together regardless of immigration status and they don’t have to be afraid of police. If something happens to them they feel free to report it.

I know my family, they didn’t call the police one time their home got broken into because they were scared. They thought, “What if they come and get us?” This was a long time ago. Now they’re U.S. residents…

But today, even me myself I have DACA [a protective status for those who arrived as children] and I’m protected from deportation for now until my permit expires. But after Donald Trump became president, some of those old fears of when I didn’t have any documentation came back. Like the fact that I’m now checking my rear mirrors to see if there’s any police behind me or I see a police and I get nervous. Those are fears that came back after he took office. Even with DACA, this fear of travelling within the United States came back.

A version of this article appears in our latest youth-led newspaper. For copies, email [email protected] or click here to download.

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Michael Lozano

Michael is an editor and multimedia journalist born to Mexican parents who started their own Domestic Violence counseling center in Southeast Los Angeles. His mentorship has provided youth opportunities to share their stories online on NPR, KCET, the Long Beach Post, and other national websites. His articles have been syndicated and translated into multiple languages via New America Media and ImpreMedia, the nation’s largest Spanish-language news publisher. He was a fellow with UCLA's Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies, and has recently been a Votebeat Reporter for CalMatters and the Long Beach Post. Michael graduated from CSULB in 2011 with research honors in Sociology and a Journalism minor. Follow his work @chicanochico on Twitter and @thechicanochicoreport on Instagram.