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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Dignity vigils call for increased support for undocumented community members

Editor’s Note: This story, published in Western Weekend on March 30, originally did not include a date for the case in which a young man was detained after a traffic stop in Bellingham. The detention occurred on June 20, 2015–not after the council passed their ordinance in February.

In February, the Bellingham City Council passed an ordinance to continue its policy of not enforcing immigration law. Local activist groups felt it fell short and have organized vigils as a part of their response.

On March 27, a mix of community members, Western students and Blue Group members stood in groups of three to four in front of Bellingham City Hall, as well as nearby government buildings.

Victoria Matey is president of Western’s Blue Group, which provides resources and support for undocumented students on campus. She and other members of Blue Group have been heavily involved in planning the vigils.

“I think it is really important for people to realize that people are literally disappearing and being stripped of their families, and literally losing all sense of security,” Matey said.

Her cousin was detained only hours before the vigil, Matey said.

The vigils are part of a campaign between groups such as Western’s Blue Group, Community to Community Development and the Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition.

Western students Alex Martinez and Galen Herz stand with community members at the March 27 vigil. // Photo by Laura Place

The campaign also works on immigration law reform, including the local Keep Bellingham Families Working ordinance and similar legislation on the state level.

According to Matey, the language in the City Council ordinance was drastically different than the Keep Bellingham Families Working proposal.

“Nothing about the City Council ordinance and the community ordinance is alike whatsoever,” Matey said. “The goal of the vigils is to raise awareness, and to show that the ordinance the city decided to pass is not going to protect anyone. We need to organize and pretty much fight for our rights.”

The vigils, which began last week, are planned for every Monday at noon in April. They take place outside the Bellingham Police Department, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, the Whatcom County Council, the City Council and the jail.

The goal is to raise awareness about the treatment of undocumented citizens by local law enforcement, as well as demand protection for Bellingham’s undocumented community, according to organizers.

Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development, described a situation in June 2015 in which a young latino man, initially pulled over for a traffic violation near the Community Food Co-op, was taken into custody by ICE within minutes of Bellingham Police pulling him over.

“[The police] are not experts in immigration law. They should be protecting our community.”

Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community to Community Development

“[The police] are not experts in immigration law. They should be protecting our community,” Guillen said.

Guillen said since the City Council passed the ordinance, undocumented people in Bellingham have continued to be racially profiled and turned over to ICE by Bellingham police.

“We’re in front of the local government’s power structures,” Guillen said. “We are trying to talk to the people in power. We do not want them cooperating with homeland security and enforcing federal immigration law,” Guillen said.

Community to Community Development is also hosting Dignity Dialogues to provide further information about ways to support the undocumented community.

Audrey Vance is a Western student who also attends the vigils and dialogues. She became involved after hearing about efforts to make Bellingham a sanctuary city.

“There’s some newcomers that come to the dignity dialogues, because we invite all people even if they don’t agree,” Vance said. “They come to learn about what we’re trying to do and be in conversation about the undocumented community and have a civil conversation about it.”

Matey described how these vigils and dialogues can help put the issue into perspective for other people in the community.

“It’s a rigorous process and it’s difficult to understand,” Matey said. “Immigration law has always been confusing.”

Dignity Dialogues are held at First Congressional Church in Bellingham at 7 p.m. on Mondays and are open to all community members.

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