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.
By Laura PlaceIn 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. 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.