By Asia Fields
Western’s Blue Group, made up of undocumented students and their supporters, is pushing for the adoption of sanctuary status in Bellingham amid national debate over the legality of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order.
The order, issued Wednesday, Jan. 25, claims that sanctuary jurisdictions willfully violate federal law and threatens them with the restriction of federal grants.
The Blue Group’s Sanctuary Ordinance Petition for City Council calls for Bellingham to prohibit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
It also states that law enforcement should not detain, arrest or question individuals on the basis of immigration status or race. To ensure adherence, the group wants penalties for violators.
For some students, the issue is personal.
“To me, making Bellingham a sanctuary city means being able to sit in a classroom, not worrying about [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] busting into the room and dragging me out in handcuffs,” senior and Blue Group member José Carrillo said at a Monday, Jan. 23 City Council meeting.
Currently, Bellingham is not responsible for enforcing immigration law, as this falls under the mandate of federal agencies. The Bellingham Police Department Policy 417 states that officers are not to investigate any civil violations of immigration law.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, local governments may choose to not comply with civil immigration detainers, as they are voluntary requests.
Despite the policies already in place, many community members have called for more action.
“To me, making Bellingham a sanctuary city means being able to sit in a classroom, not worrying about [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] busting into the room and dragging me out in handcuffs.”
The Blue Group estimates they now have around 1,300 signatures on their sanctuary ordinance. As of Monday, Jan. 30, the ordinance is open for additional support.
“We know many of the people who signed this have a lot to learn about the undocumented community, but morally they knew this was the best decision for the city to take a stance on,” senior and Blue Group President Victoria Matey said.
The Blue Group appealed their ordinance to the Bellingham City Council at the Monday, Jan. 23 meeting.
The public speaking portion featured advocates for the ordinance, with one exception.
Carrie Kovaleski, with packets of information in tow, vocally objected to the adoption of sanctuary status. She argued sanctuary cities are magnets for criminals and Bellingham would be impacted by a loss in federal grant money.
“It is time to use logic and not your heart when it comes to making decisions for the city,” Kovaleski said.
However, the City Council’s fact sheet on the topic states that it is unpredictable what federal funding changes will occur. There is debate over what the impact in federal funding would be, as courts, Congress and the new administration navigate the legality of federal funding restrictions.
The term “sanctuary city” is widely used, yet the phrase lacks legal meaning. In general, the phrase indicates cities are committed to limiting cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
There are a number of policies that can fit under this wide term. President Donald Trump’s executive order gives the Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly authority to conclude which cities fall into the category.
The legal community has been frustrated over the lack of consistency in immigration policy implementation so far, according to local immigration lawyer Hannah Stone.
“If you’re being inspected or if you’re stopped by an officer, how you’re going to be treated is unfortunately very dependent on who that individual officer is,” Stone said.
Despite threats and confusion, mayors from prominent sanctuary cities have held fast on their decision. In a press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 25, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said that he was prepared to lose “every penny” of federal funding.
Local advocates made similar points at the council meeting, calling on council members to make what they saw as the moral decision. Speakers argued that sanctuary status would keep families together and improve the relationships between undocumented peoples and local law enforcement.
“Even if we were to lose funding, declaring ourselves a sanctuary city is still the right thing to do,” Carrillo said.
Larry Estrada, associate professor at Western, argued that simply having sanctuary policies is not enough.
“The easy thing for City Council to do is to say, ‘Well, we’re going to do everything up to the point of being a sanctuary city, but were not going to call ourselves a sanctuary city,’” Estrada said. “But that is the moral thing to do, and that is the courageous thing to do.”
Mayor Kelli Linville expressed some frustration over this, as she said she believes Bellingham is already operating with sanctuary policies.
Linville said she understands the power of becoming a sanctuary city, as it could increase confidence in government.
“I believe that we should be a sanctuary city because people don’t know what we’re doing,” Linville said.
Linville was going to propose the idea herself, but allowed the council to examine the issue.
Although the city council has yet to make a decision, members of the Blue Group are thankful for the council members’ cooperation so far.
“They have all been very supportive, they’ve all done their homework researching and looking into the details of what they can do,” Blue Group member Olga Prado said.
The council decided to create a working group to write a plan of action related to the topic. The group is to present a draft at the council’s next meeting on Monday, Feb. 13.
The speakers at the meeting made it clear that they would press council on this issue, as many of them said they would continue to return until Bellingham was declared a sanctuary city.
“If Burien declares sanctuary, so can Bellingham,” said Matey. “We are undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic. This is the year that no one forgets who the Blue Group is.”