Nearly 200 people attended an educational community meeting Thursday night at the Langley United Methodist Church to learn more about the effort to make Langley a sanctuary or “inclusive” city.
A variety of topics were discussed at the meeting, from the ability of President Donald Trump to carry out his threat against sanctuary cities — to bar them from federal funding — to the pros and cons of adopting a sanctuary city status. Other discussion points included the definition of being a “inclusive city,” and whether or not the adoption of such would leave city officials in violation of their oaths of office.
The gathering was organized by those who are advocating the Langley City Council approve an ordinance that would formally instruct police to not cooperate with federal officials in detaining people based on their immigration status or religious beliefs.
“We’re trying to get in front of what might potentially happen,” said Clinton resident Natasha Dworkin, one of several organizers of the event.
The panelists were American Civil Liberties Union attorney Mary Kay Barbieri; Rev. Mary Boyd of the Langley United Methodist Church; Emily Gaggia, an education coordinator at Seattle-based non-profit organization Casa Latina that helps educate and assist Latino seasonal workers; and Rose Homme, a South Whidbey resident and advocate for a sanctuary city ordinance. Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson and members of the Langley City Council were also in attendance.
Around two dozen members of the Latino and immigrant community also came to the meeting. Juan Perez, a Bayview resident and native of Guatemala, told a Record reporter he was simply there to listen and learn more about the discussion.
“We’re working on the problems there are with immigration,” Perez said through Kathryn Rickert, a translator. “We are a little bit afraid.”
Graham Gori, owner of Portico Latin Bistro & Cantina in Langley, translated the panelists’ discussions to the Spanish-speaking audience members.
Barbieri with the ACLU said the authority of Trump and Congress to enforce federal immigration law is addressed by the 10th amendment, which addresses a separation of power between the federal government and states. While the federal government has the right to enforce immigration laws, it cannot make states enforce it, she said.
“The people that founded our democracy, having escaped by being ruled by a monarchy, were eager to have the federal government not be like a kingdom that overruled all of its people,” Barbieri said. “…The federal government only has the powers that are in listed in the constitution. It has no other powers. All the other powers are given to the states.”
Barbieri also added the American Civil Liberties Union is willing to represent sanctuary cities in any litigation where federal funds are at risk of being taken away, speaking to President Trump’s threats to yank federal funds from sanctuary cities.
Boyd provided religious perspective, reading scripture from the Bible that specifically applies to the issue of immigration, such as Deuteronomy 27:19.
“ ‘Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan and the widow of justice,’ ” recited Boyd, of scripture. “ ‘All the people shall say, “Amen.”’ ”
Gaggia grew up on South Whidbey and helped Guatemalan immigrants get to Canada in the 1980s with the Langley United Methodist Church, said that for the majority of the people in the audience, life has been easy and that it’s time to stand up.
“This isn’t a discussion about good people and bad people,” Gaggia said. “Most everyone has a good heart. But those of us with good hearts, what is it going to take for us to have a rebellious spirit?”
Homme offered her experiences as a woman of color in the current political climate.
“I am an American citizen, yet I don’t feel safe right now,” said Homme, whose mother’s ancestors are indigenous to North America.
Homme said that a sanctuary city ordinance would wrap a protective hug around those in the community who, like Homme, feel vulnerable but are still “relatively” safe, and those who are “truly” vulnerable.
Homme also spoke to the issue regarding city officials’ concerns of violating their oaths of office if Langley declares itself as a sanctuary city. She said city officials would not violate their oaths because the issue is not in conflict with the Constitution.
Hugh Spitzer, a law professor at the University of Washington, observed in an email to The Record on Thursday that the city’s oath of office document does not require “a positive duty on the part of local officials to carry out federal laws.”
Price Johnson, reading from an email sent by Chief Jail Administrator Jose Briones, said that Island County Jail staff do not question inmates or hold people based on their immigration status.
During a question and answer portion of the meeting, former Island County social worker Janet Staub said she encountered instances to the contrary. Staub said that while Briones’ email said Island County Jail does not question inmates on their immigration status, that does not mean it cannot report them. She called for Island County to also show leadership on the subject of sanctuary cities.
“I believe strongly that we need a strong statement (and) leadership from both our towns and our county that clearly delineates what is and isn’t allowable,” Staub said.
In an interview with The Record Thursday morning, Briones said that Island County Jail would do nothing if it discovered an inmate was an illegal immigrant, and that cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) only occurs when ICE, Border Patrol or Homeland Security issues a warrant/hold on a subject for felony charges.
City Councilwoman Rene Neff told The Record in a follow-up interview Friday morning that she is investigating alternative options to the resolution proposed by the city and ethics board, but is unsure where it will go.
“I’m definitely interested in maybe stronger language, or more specific, I would say,” Neff said.
The Langley City Council will discuss the city’s proposed resolution, built upon a recommendation by the ethics board to temporarily table declare Langley a sanctuary city status in favor of an “ethically prudent” alternative option, at its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at City Hall.