Asian Americans have won back the basic right to water in California’s Siskiyou County.
Humanitarian crisis: On Tuesday, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors repealed targeted water ordinances that caused a humanitarian crisis for Asian American residents in the county, where thousands were deprived of water for survival, according to a press release.
The deprivation of basic water needs was part of the county’s alleged campaign of harassment, discrimination and racial profiling against Asian American community members. The crisis forced families to leave their homes as the lack of water degraded their health. The community also suffered livestock losses and were left unable to fend off wildfires.
“My neighbors and I have been forced to make impossible choices between bathing every week and providing water to our pets, livestock, and gardens,” said Siskiyou County resident Russell Mathis. “County officials said they wanted to ‘choke’ us out, and these water ordinances were one tool in a shameful playbook to push so many of us out of the neighborhoods we call home.”
Repealing water ordinances: With the recent settlement in the Lo v. Siskiyou County case, the county repealed two water ordinances and amended a third for due process protections. The Asian American residents are now allowed to transport water to their homes via trucks and purchase water for basic needs from well owners.
“Today, we celebrate an important victory affirming our human right to water and our rights to live without oppressive fear and trauma, simply because of where we were born or what we look like,” Mathis said.
“Campaign to harass”: Although the case was won, the Asian American community continues to battle alleged discrimination by county officials and the Siskiyou Sheriff’s Department.
“Siskiyou County and the Sheriff’s Department have gone to troubling lengths to push out the Asian American community, and community members are taking action to create a safe, inclusive place to live,” said senior attorney John Do of the ACLU of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Last year, Asian American community members filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the county and its sheriff engaged “in a sweeping campaign to harass and intimidate Hmong and other Asian Americans,” including wrongfully accusing them of criminal activity, harassing them at traffic stops and discriminating against the community in public meetings. The community members leading the lawsuit are now in settlement negotiations.
About Siskiyou County: The county’s population of less than 45,000 people is 1.6% Asian American and 85% white. Many of the Asian American residents belong to the Hmong community who sought refuge in the States after fighting alongside the U.S. government in the Vietnam War. The water ordinances trace back to the county’s long history of racist water policies that targeted communities of color to uphold segregation in California.