A message to our elected officials
Since assuming office, President Trump and his Justice Department have continued to send a strong message: “Immigrants are no longer welcome here.” Cruel policies toward immigrant families have deepened, families and children are separated and imprisoned, people are blocked from applying for legal asylum as refugees. Financial support for many mixed status families is being denied and there are proposed increases in immigration fees.
Many presidential dictates and Justice Department policies violate immigrant, human and civil—and at times basic constitutional – rights. These policies create a climate of fear in immigrant communities, with heightened anxiety about people disappearing and families being separated. Clearly, a key purpose of cruel treatment is to discourage others from coming to the US and to encourage self-deportation. Even immigrants with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) designations are threatened with loss of that status.
Legislative push-back against harassment, arrest and deportation
States like Washington, Oregon and California and some major cities are passing legislation or creating policies to restrict state and local government cooperation (to the extent legally possible) with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to prevent the arrest and deportation of non-criminal immigrants, many of whom play vital roles in local and statewide economies. Some communities have become official Sanctuary Cities, adopting policies to restrict local police from collaborating with ICE. The City of Olympia unanimously passed a resolution to become a Sanctuary City on December 13, 2016. Last year, the State of Washington passed and signed into law the Keep Washington Working Act, affirming the dignity and economic value of Washington State immigrants and restricting state and local governments from providing assistance to ICE.
The presence of ICE officials at courthouses around the west coast appears to be increasing, which is threatening for immigrants who appear as witnesses, crime victims or defendants. In June of 2019, an immigrant was arrested by ICE plain clothes officers on Thurston County Courthouse grounds and was driven off in an unmarked van. District Court Judge Brett Buckley commented at a County hearing on the arrest that it had the appearance of a kidnapping and that this should not happen in this country.
Washington State Supreme Court Judge, Mary Fairhurst, wrote the US Dept. of Homeland Security in 2017, challenging ICE and Border Patrol practices around local courthouses. “These developments are deeply troubling because they impede the fundamental mission of our courts, which is to ensure due process and access to justice for everyone, regardless of their immigration status.” ICE and Border Patrol have not honored this request.
Oregon, by contrast, has launched newly strengthened measures to protect immigrants in courthouse areas. The protection of immigrants in the courthouse arena will be a central feature of the 2020 public policy agenda by immigrants’ rights groups.
New bills aimed at securing immigrant rights
Wednesday, February 5 is Immigrant Rights Advocacy Day (see inset next page) at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. The public is invited to learn more about proposed legislation and are encouraged to meet with congressional leaders after the event. Some highlights of the legislation being proposed include:
- Courts open to all, with restricted ICE activity at courthouses:
- Prohibit prosecutors, judges and court staff from sharing information with ICE/CBP;
- Require courts to collect data about when and why ICE/CBP agents will be at the courthouse;
- Require judicial warrants for civil ICE/CBP arrests on courthouse grounds.
- Stop expansion of detention centers in the state; close the Tacoma Detention Center.
- Make Apple Health (State Medicaid) available to undocumented immigrants up to age 26.
Other good immigrant bills that are likely to be encouraged include:
- Workplace Audit Protections similar to a California bill that requires employers to provide some protections, such as notification before an ICE audit occurs or if an employee’s name is flagged.
- Require unemployment benefits for undocumented workers, or at least access to family emergency funds especially during deportation hearings.
- Allow undocumented youth in college to work on campus.
- Funds for immigrant domestic violence victims to have access to food and medical assistance. A version of this bill passed the Senate unanimously last year, but needs modest retitling to meet certain constitutional standards.
Solidarity groups help meet immediate needs of immigrant populations
Legislative advocacy matters, of course, but so do the daily efforts of those who creatively and forcefully challenge xenophobic authorities, ensure people’s safety and creatively forge ways to involve people from a range of backgrounds and experiences. Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) is a vital force, involving around 150 organizations committed to protecting immigrants and to strengthening our communities in a number of interconnecting ways: WAISN, in alliance with other organizations, has just launched a program to support unaccompanied immigrant youth by advocating for their release from detention, finding safe housing, and supporting youth who are transitioning out of custodial conditions.
WAISN’s Fair Fight Bond Funds project provides urgently needed funding. The Rapid Response and Deportation Defense projects are dedicated to providing material support, incident tracking and verification, and on-the-ground witnesses. The effort to “lift a case in the public sphere” involves careful, creative, and respectful ways of telling the stories that too often are ignored or silenced.
WAISN’s movement-building momentum opens up space for organizations that have very focused purposes like Advocates for Immigrants in Detention NW (AIDSNorthwest), which maintains a steadfast daily presence at the gates of the Tacoma detention center, providing transport, housing, material support, and emotional sustenance to just-released folks.
Olympia’s Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance also offers important accompaniment services, like workshops at schools on the needs of immigrant students and their families; strategizing to keep Olympia a Sanctuary community by learning about and challenging law enforcement practices; fund-raising for immigrants’ needs, and working with CIELO, a vital educational support for Olympia area immigrants.
Meeting shifting policies with renewed resolve
All of these efforts and approaches have helped create an immigrants’ rights movement in a varied and challenging region. WAISN and allied organizations are astute observers of emerging and shifting national policies, while also offering real-time support for people dealing with ICE raids like the one in Basin City in Central Washington last summer. Due to the preparation, knowledge and courage of WAISN advocates, most of the Basin City detainees were quickly released.
Working to release nine detainees in an ICE raid in an isolated, vulnerable community such as Basin City has to be connected in meaningful ways to the at-the-gates approach of AIDSNW in Tacoma. We have a lot to teach each other in our varied communities, with the different opportunities, different risks that separate rural/urban places across the Cascade divide.
Nor can we take WA’s “sanctuary state” condition for granted. There are those in the legislature who have other things in mind, from Senator Phil Fortunato’s plan to reverse/obliterate WA-as-Sanctuary to Representative Matt Shea’s dream of merging of northeast WA and northern Idaho to create the white/Christian/separatist state of “Liberty.”
At the moment, the Northwest has a powerful immigrant-rights stance. Every day there is something new to grapple with and powerful challenges to strengthen our resolve. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to do. Learn more about protecting and strengthening the rights of immigrants and their families on February 5.
Bob Zeigler retired as a state biologist and has been active in peace, justice and human rights issues in Olympia since 1976.
Lin Nelson is a retired Evergreen State College faculty member.