By Drew Stuart
Undocumented students and other supporters took over City Hall, advocating for Bellingham’s municipal government to turn the town into a sanctuary city, on Thursday, April 26, 2018.
The demonstration featured students demanding stronger protections for undocumented immigrants in Bellingham. Many of the protesters were Western students who felt their city had not done enough to protect its residents.
Blue Group, an Associated Students group that supports undocumented students in their academic careers at Western, led the protest. Attendees adorned the steps to City Hall with signs decrying U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and supporting immigrants rights.
Victoria Matey, a spokesperson for Blue Group, said not enough was being done for undocumented students and immigrants in Bellingham.
“Right now, multiple community members are at risk of being deported,” Matey said. “City Council isn’t doing anything about it.”
Several speakers took to the steps with megaphones in hand. Matey spoke at length about the hardships that came with being undocumented, as did other members of Blue Group, a student from Whatcom Community College and more.
Members of the group Socialist Alternative also attended the protest in support of undocumented students.
The protest also drew attention to the dangers of border crossing. An altar outside city hall was erected for people to pay their respects to the migrants who lost their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Over 400 migrants died in their journey to the United States in 2017, according to a press release from the International Organization for Migration’s website.
The protest called on the City Council to protect undocumented immigrants in a more formal sense. Matey and others repeatedly expressed frustration that the City Council did not name themselves as an official sanctuary city.
In Feb. 2017, the City Council passed an ordinance instructing local police forces not to enforce federal immigration laws or collaborate with ICE. However, it stopped short of officially calling Bellingham a sanctuary city.
Many of the protestors felt that this action was a mistake. Prior to the ordinance, Matey and fellow members of Blue Group told the city council that becoming an official sanctuary city was the best course of action according to a Bellingham Herald article from 2016.
Cindy Marquina-Negrete, another member of Blue Group, said their version of the ordinance would’ve been better for undocumented immigrants in Bellingham.
“We were fighting to get the ordinance, and then they didn’t pass the ordinance that we want,” Marquina said.
While there is no concrete legal definition of what a sanctuary city is, many of the student protesters said they felt formally labelling Bellingham as a sanctuary city would make them feel safer.
Maru Mora-Villalpando, a local immigrant-rights activist, spoke at the protest. Her speech addressed both the City Council and her battle with ICE.
“ICE continues destroying our families and our communities,” Mora said. “They’re relentless.”
ICE was formed in 2003 as a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland security. ICE conducted 226,119 removals of immigrants in 2017 according to its website.
In Jan. 2018, ICE issued Mora a notice to appear, marking the beginning of deportation proceedings against her. Mora has lived in the United states since 1996, and does not have a criminal record. Her daughter, Josefina Mora, is a Western student.
Mora said the City Council needs to adopt stronger measures to protect not just herself, but all undocumented residents living in the city.
The protest came to a close at 1 p.m., but Matey said Blue Group wouldn’t stop fighting for the rights of undocumented immigrants to live in the United States.
“I hope people see the urgency in what is happening,” Matey said.