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Monday, May 10, 2021

City Council votes to protect immigrants with new ordinance

By McKenna Cardwell

Editor’s note: The print version of this story, published Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, originally stated the Bellingham City Council unanimously passed an ordinance, naming Bellingham an official sanctuary city. This story is updated with correct information to say the council passed an ordinance that applies all the protections granted in sanctuary cities, but that Bellingham was not named a sanctuary city.

The Bellingham City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to apply all protection granted in sanctuary cities, but Bellingham was not named a sanctuary city.

Councilmember April Barker stated the stipulations of the ordinance.

Local police will have no involvement in enforcing legal immigration. This means regardless of immigration status, residents of Bellingham will receive city services, Barker said.  In addition, revealing citizenship of immigrants will now be limited by both law enforcement and city forms.

“Bellingham could be a model city. It’s up to you to be as brave as we are, to stand here in front of a bunch of racists and anti-immigrants. We are here to stay and we are not afraid.”

Maru Mora Villalpando

Community members waiting to hear whether or not the ordinance would pass packed into the council chambers of city hall.

Audience members squeezed close to one another, sitting anywhere they could find a space. There was overflow extending out the meeting chambers to city hall’s outside courtyard.

Tensions ran high. Throughout the meeting, a majority of audience members voiced their displeasure for community speakers, many of whom expressed their viewpoints against the ordinance. Opposition to the ordinance included concerns over safety and violating a federal law.

“What kind of an example are you setting for citizens? Are you respecting law enforcement?  Are you protecting the legal Americans that want safety?” said Ashley Butenschoen, a Bellingham resident.  

Ricardo Luna was another community member who spoke against the ordinance.

“My heart bleeds, yes, there are a lot of hard times out there. But we are a nation of law, we either support the law or we don’t,” Luna said. “I am an American of Mexican descent, I am a proud American and I am against this proposal.”

Bellingham City Council chamber awaits the decision on whether Bellingham will be a sanctuary city Monday, Feb. 13. // Photo by Rachel Postlewait

Maru Mora Villalpando is the CEO of Latino Advocacy and a community immigrant-rights leader who spoke in favor of the sanctuary city.

“Bellingham could be a model city,” Villalpando told the council. “It’s up to you to be as brave as we are, to stand here in front of a bunch of racists and anti-immigrants. We are here to stay and we are not afraid.”

Some speakers voiced support for the sanctuary city, but said the ordinance proposed by the council didn’t go far enough to protect undocumented citizens.

Community members in favor of the sanctuary city expressed concerns over future police interaction with the community and asked whether the ordinance would be effective at protecting undocumented immigrants from being deported.

Josephine Mora is the daughter of Villalpando, and urged the council to table the proposal to create a stronger ordinance.

“This ordinance is a step forward. But please table the vote on this ordinance because it is not enough to protect our communities, it is going to tear families apart,” Mora said.

The council’s decision failed to fulfill the wishes of either side of the argument, Councilmember Roxanne Murphy said. There is no one answer to satisfy everybody.

“We have to start somewhere for our community,” Murphy said. “I ask you to work with us and not against us. We can’t solve all of these problems tonight but I would really like to start with this ordinance.


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