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Immigration Advisory Board officially suspended after third and final city vote

The suspension stems from a disconnect between IAB members and the City Council about the board’s responsibilities

Immigration Advisory Board members speak at the board’s final meeting on Jan. 16, 2024, in Bellingham, Wash. More than 50 people attended the meeting. // Photo courtesy of Edgar Franks

At Bellingham’s City Council meeting on Monday, Feb.19, the last item on the agenda was a final vote from the council to suspend future meetings of the Immigration Advisory Board. 

In 20 seconds, the council voted 6-1 to suspend. The only “nay” vote came from Jace Cotton, recently appointed at-large councilmember.

The IAB, formed in 2019 at the request of Councilmember Hannah Stone, served the purpose of connecting Bellingham’s immigrant community with local government. According to the City’s website, the IAB existed “to review and evaluate existing policies and make specific recommendations to the Mayor and City Council regarding city policy related to immigration matters.”

Stone also proposed the suspension of the IAB at a City Council meeting on Jan. 2 through a draft ordinance. She later referenced a disconnect between City representatives and board members.

“Efforts to move forward had become increasingly adversarial and unproductive,” she said in an email, adding that the suspension was intended to allow a realignment of work while maintaining trust and transparency.

“I joined the IAB because I wanted to do something that would make a difference for immigrants,” said IAB member Tara Villalba. 

Villalba expressed her disappointment with the way the City handled both the forming of the board and the board’s suspension. From her perspective, the IAB was suspended for two reasons: the City felt that the board’s work could add to their already existing priorities and that the concerns brought about by board members threatened City staff and made them uncomfortable. 

Villalba said local government wanted them to be non-threatening and not angry, adding that she felt IAB members were meant to act a certain way while delivering their message. 

“They failed the immigrant community,” Villalba said. “We were doing work that the City had not thought of and not prioritized and not put resources behind.”

From Villalba’s perspective, the City suspending the IAB’s future meetings means putting a hold on important work that is specific to the immigrant community and can’t be found anywhere else.

Bellingham City Councilmember Michael Lilliquist carries a different view of the reason the IAB was suspended. One of the board’s main goals was creating an immigrant resource center, meant to serve as a hub of information for the community and a cultural space. Lilliquist said that the board was attempting to get City funding for the resource center without providing much further detail.

“Our advisory boards aren’t advocacy organizations,” he said.

Lilliquist said he believes there is a disconnect between the responsibilities of an advisory board such as this one and what the IAB members want. 

“Almost everything they’re asking for is not supposed to be provided by the IAB, it’s supposed to be provided by the immigrant resource center,” he said.

While he supports the idea of an immigrant resource center, Lilliquist said the IAB hadn’t been advising the City on things that were already happening.

“I just think there’s been this kind of misunderstanding about the role of the IAB,” he said.

Flora Archuleta is the executive director of the San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center in Alamosa, Colorado. The center has been in operation for 23 years and offers legal assistance to immigrants, helping integrate them into the community. 

Archuleta said that the biggest benefit of their work is being able to provide legal resources to people who otherwise would have to travel to access them. She said the nearest attorney is in Colorado Springs, which is approximately a 3-hour drive away. 

“It takes a lot of dedication, and patience, and work,” Archuleta said in an email, adding that their staff are constantly busy. 

Julien Labiche is manager of the Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center in Wheaton, Maryland. He said the center is first and foremost a welcoming space for immigrants. 

“We strive to ease and facilitate access to the wealth of existing services and opportunities that are difficult to navigate when you are new to the area and do not speak English,” Labiche said in an email.

He said that the most rewarding part of his work is receiving positive feedback from residents about the benefits of the resource center, which includes things like English-language assistance, computer classes and an Information and Referral line. 

“This kind of feedback takes us back to the mission of the Gilchrist Center, which is to establish a connection between residents and the services provided by local government,” Labiche said.

Stone said the board could have benefitted from a more in-depth development process at the start.

“Unlike other city boards and commissions, the work of the IAB does not directly align with a specific city department, program or activity,” she said.

Additional information can be found on the IAB website. The ordinance to suspend the board doesn’t outline processes by which the board’s work will continue.

“We understand that we’re not disbanded,” Villalba said. “But suspending our meetings basically stops us from being able to continue.”

Franny Vollert

Franny Vollert (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a sophomore majoring in journalism with a news/editorial concentration. She enjoys reading, taking walks, and spending time with friends. You can reach her at

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