Tie-breaking mayor's vote makes Hillsboro a sanctuary
On a tie-breaking "yes" vote by Mayor Steve Callaway, the Hillsboro City Council narrowly passed a resolution declaring Hillsboro a sanctuary city Tuesday night, March 7.
A packed Shirley Huffman Auditorium, monitored on all sides by about 30 Hillsboro Police officers over the course of the meeting, erupted in cheers when Callaway announced at 10:45 p.m. that Resolution 2552 had prevailed.
"Tell me what democracy looks like!" shouted one supporter, who led a standing ovation.
The split vote — with councilors Olivia Alcaire, Anthony Martin and Kyle Allen voting "yes" and Fred Nachtigal, Rick Van Beveren and Darell Lumaco voting "no" — signaled the panel's reluctance to weigh in locally on federal immigration policy, which has been a national hot button since President Donald Trump began pushing for the deportation of millions of undocumented residents across the country early this year.
In announcing he planned to vote "yes" if the six councilors wound up deadlocked, Callaway insisted symbolic votes were important.
"They affirm we care. They affirm we will protect," he said, adding he was swayed by thinking about the futures of young immigrants who are part of former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
"For me, this is a vote to say to the children who have grown up here, who have done the right thing and have gone to school, that there are no spare parts in Hillsboro," said Callaway.
Nachtigal and Van Beveren both said they'd lost sleep over the issue since December, when councilors first started debating the sanctuary issue.
"This is the single most difficult issue in all my time on the council," said Nachtigal, who added that supporting Resolution 2552 "cannot assuage the fears" of those who could face deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.
He argued that making Hillsboro a sanctuary could potentially make the city's large Latino community less safe than it already is, because recent ICE arrests have occurred in sanctuary cities across America.
"Why stand up and wave your arms? I see no advantage," he said.
Lumaco, too, worried that becoming a sanctuary "may bring harm to the very people we want to protect."
But Martin and council newcomer Alcaire indicated a willingness to push past the complexities of the issue.
"This is a symbolic gesture," said Martin, who joined the council last fall. "It reaffirms the city's commitment to diversity."
In only her second official meeting as the council's newest member, Alcaire — noting her grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico — said she was unwilling to "feel threatened" by the new administration in Washington, D.C.
"I will give you my word," she said, turning to the audience inside the Civic Center. "I'm not going to turn my back on you."
Bible verses, hiding places
Following a quiet protest outside the Civic Center prior to the 7 p.m. meeting, more than 50 people testified for over three hours in favor of the resolution and against it, with supporters outnumbering detractors by about three to one.
Several local pastors quoted Bible verses, a middle schooler lobbied for action that could help his friends feel safer and one woman invoked the specter of the Holocaust.
"Sanctuary city means a hiding place — it was used in the German-Jew war," said Hillsboro resident Sharon Cornish. "You're being over-generous … you don't know the good from the bad who are coming."
As a sanctuary, Hillsboro will continue to abide by Oregon laws that do not allow municipal law enforcement agencies to aid ICE in the detection or arrest of undocumented immigrants. Yet the city can't prevent ICE from detaining or deporting undocumented people who live in the city.
But the designation could provide a measure of comfort for some who pleaded with the council to take action.
"I've seen an increase in the number of patients suffering from anxiety and depression," said Ingrid Solares, a social worker with the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center. "I'm an immigrant. We want all of our children to sleep at night, to get up and go to school and learn."
A "yes" vote from the council, Solares said, would "say to these children that you care about them — that you understand they are afraid."
Evergreen Middle School student Andrew Graves, 13, told councilors he wanted to "talk about what it's like to be a kid and see what's happening," adding he has "a lot of friends who are undocumented.
"They come to me and ask me what to do. They say, 'I'm in such a stuck position because of this election.' I need, and my friends need, for this to be a sanctuary city."
'No excuse for being ignorant'
Not everyone was eager to see Hillsboro gain sanctuary status, however.
Kimberly Scott, who has six children and volunteers in Hillsboro schools, said she wasn't sure "how people can be so whipped up with fear. There's no excuse for being ignorant of our laws."
"We need to uphold the laws of the United States," said Merlin Bernards, 67, who has lived in Hillsboro his entire life. "ICE can do a raid whenever it wants. You need to represent all the citizens — not the vocal minority."
Bernards said Beaverton officials have estimated they could lose $1.6 million if Trump follows through on his pledge to pull federal money — block grants and other funding — from cities that classify themselves as sanctuaries. "I assume we'd lose somewhere in that same ballpark."
Hillsboro expects to receive only about $1.3 million in federal grants this year, according to city finance officials, and an additional $1.4 million in state funding. Taken together, that accounts for about half of 1 percent of the city's $499 million annual budget.
City attorney Chad Jacobs called into question whether the city could be docked federal dollars, because language in Trump's executive order governing such distributions is unclear. "There's an argument that we won't lose any federal funding at all."
Answering concerns from some in the audience about whether the resolution would pass legal muster, Jacobs said it would.
"It publicly reaffirms that the city will continue to follow state law — that's the scope of it," said Jacobs. "The resolution is legal. It follows state law. It does not ignore federal law."
But it also does not provide additional legal protection to individuals "who may be subject to federal laws on immigration," Jacobs stressed.
A smiling Promise King, president of the Oregon League of Minority Voters, celebrated with other sanctuary supporters in the Civic Center foyer after the vote.
"I expected Hillsboro as a city would not shy away from the values of diversity," said King, a Portland resident. "This issue has percolated around politics, but this vote tonight reaches far beyond that."