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Wildly inflated statistic goes unanswered during meeting on sanctuary city status

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHONE: CHASE ALLGOOD - Olivia Alcaire, Hillsboro City Councilor, says the number of people living in the city without proper documentation is likely closer to 1,000 not 20,000 as some have claimed. The issue arose as the Council debated whether or not to formally declare itself a 'sanctuary city.'Dozens of citizens who spoke to the city council earlier this month about sanctuary city status argued that many in Hillsboro's large Latino population are fearful of deportation in the early days of the Donald Trump administration.

At least two speakers tossed out another tantalizing sound bite: that there are 20,000 or more undocumented immigrants living in the city.

Lyn Jacobs, a family physician with the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, told councilors 20 percent of Hillsboro's population is made up of undocumented people. "Your vote is significant to them," she said.

Martha Molina of Hillsboro said "27,000 undocumented immigrants live and work in our city. We want to live with a little bit of peace and safety."

While that staggering statistic perked up the ears of many in the audience, including several on the panel that eventually deadlocked on the sanctuary issue, the large crowd left the Hillsboro Civic Center without benefit of a correction.

"I'm not familiar with any statistics on the number of undocumented residents in our community. I don't imagine we have such statistics because we don't ask whether a person is documented or undocumented for [them to receive] our services," Patrick Preston, spokesman for the city of Hillsboro, told The Tribune after the meeting.

Councilor Anthony Martin said there's a "fine line" between providing factual information during a public meeting in response to citizen comment and "stopping the flow" of such sessions.

The 20,000/27,000 number, he said, "was likely in reference to the entire Hispanic population" in Hillsboro — but that was not made clear over the length of the three-hour meeting last week.

"I wish we had addressed that," Martin said Tuesday while in Washington, D.C., with fellow councilors and Mayor Steve Callaway for a National League of Cities conference. "That was a really difficult thing."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, among Hillsboro's population of just over 102,000, about 23 percent are Hispanic or Latino. The census bureau does not track the number of people in the country without proper documentation — nor does the city.

"Many of us after the meeting were expressing that [the 20,000 number] was ridiculous. I have no idea how many undocumented are in Hillsboro, but with roughly 25,000 Latinos, there's no way we would have 20,000," said Callaway, who cast the tie-breaking vote that turned Hillsboro into a symbolic sanctuary for those anxious about potential visits by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Olivia Alcaire, the council's newest member and herself a Latina, said Tuesday she believes about 1,000 people living in Hillsboro are undocumented. That number came from Hector Hinojosa, a longtime Latino community leader in western Washington County.

"I am trusting that information," said Alcaire, who is Mexican American. She added that as elected officials, it's "not our purpose to determine who is undocumented and who is not. People can provide that information on their own — if they feel safe."

Alcaire said she was troubled by "incorrect and derogatory" statements made by some anti-sanctuary commenters "in their anger" during the March 7 meeting — anger she blames on "targeted racism" by President Donald Trump.

Nothing changed between the days before the sanctuary meeting and the day of the meeting, she noted. "These are the same people they've been living with all along — their neighbors, their co-workers," said Alcaire.

While visiting several national historic sites this week, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the National Mall, Alcaire said she was touched by the lessons available there. "I've seen what we've done in fear of the 'other' in this nation," she said.

Hinojosa emailed councilors on Feb. 22 to urge them to vote "yes" for sanctuary city status. He said he came to the U.S. with his parents in 1952, but that the same citizenship application process that took two years to complete back then "now takes 15 years" — something echoed by several who testified March 7.

He wrote that he moved to Hillsboro in 1961 and lived and worked for years in the county without proper paperwork before becoming a U.S. citizen in 1976.

"I was [an undocumented immigrant] and didn't know it," wrote Hinojosa. "My permanent resident visa expired when I was 14 years old. At the age of 21, I was busted — I was married and took my wife into Mexico, and on the way back I was held by immigration and not allowed to come back in.

"Had it not been for my community work and advocacy with local families helping them with INS (the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service), I would have been [out of luck]. They granted me a 30-day stay ... the story continues ... someday I would love to tell you [the] rest.

"We are part of this community, part of your lives; I hope that the feeling is mutual."

Hinojosa endorsed Alcaire for her position on the city council. She is the only female on the seven-member panel.

"I'm not white — I'm brown. My experience is not the same as the other councilors or the mayor," Alcaire said this week. "Everybody's got to do their own work" on the issue of race relations in America, she added.

Callaway and councilors Alcaire, Martin, Rick Van Beveren, Kyle Allen, Fred Nachtigal and Darell Lumaco spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill, lobbying for issues they see as important to Hillsboro.

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