Council OKs 'inclusive city' resolution
The Newberg City Council approved a resolution last week that declares Newberg to be an "inclusive city," after councilors heard more than an hour of public testimony in support of the measure.
Before the 6-0 vote in favor of the resolution March 6, City Manager Joe Hannan advised the council that the designation, a hybrid of numerous proposals, reiterates existing state law that city employees already follow while offering undocumented residents and their families a small — if largely symbolic — assurance that city staff and police will not enforce federal immigration rules.
Concluding public testimony, Isaura Peña, a Newberg resident and staff member with Unidos Bridging Community, said the resolution is not about the legal debate going on throughout the country, but a symbolic gesture for worried residents.
"It's a sign of solidarity for the parents of our city, it's a sign of acceptance to our neighbors and friends, it's a symbolic 'thank you' to those who work in our city, and it's a sign of hope for our children and our youth," she said. "As a member of our community I urge you all to support this resolution and publicly stand against hate with our neighbors and friends."
The move comes in wake of plans from President Donald Trump's administration to build a wall on the border with Mexico and more zealously enforce immigration law, as well as threats to withhold federal funds from communities that designate themselves as a "sanctuary" for those in the country illegally.
In spite of this, many cities across the country — including Portland, Beaverton and more recently Hillsboro — have adopted that designation, approving language that prohibits local staff and police from enforcing federal immigration laws. Other cities, such as McMinnville and Salem, have approved "inclusive city" resolutions.
Staff with Unidos Bridging Community, the Yamhill County group that lobbied McMinnville and Newberg with support from Councilor Denise Bacon to adopt inclusive city resolutions, have previously said the term inclusive has a connotation that better resembles what a city can offer as opposed to the physical protection implied by the word sanctuary.
Oregon already has a longstanding law that forbids employees of the state or any political subdivision within it, like cities, from enforcing federal immigration laws, which some perceive as making all of Oregon a sanctuary state. This has prompted concerns that federal funding is in jeopardy for all communities in the state, especially with the Trump administration's plan to put $1 trillion into the country's infrastructure.
However, Hannan said members of Oregon's congressional delegation have assured that there have been no proposals detailing how the administration might punish sanctuary cities, and, even if there were, those would have to be approved by Congress and likely have to withstand scrutiny from the judicial system.
Hannan said the city has never been called on by the federal officials to assist in immigration enforcement and such requests are unlikely, but even tacitly leaving open that possibility may dissuade some residents from approaching local police with concerns.
"One of the things that we want to make very clear is to have people feel comfortable in town, that they can come to law enforcement, because that's very critical for us," he said.
In addition to Peña, the council heard from residents, business owners in both English and Spanish as well as local pastors, such as Leslie Murray of North Valley Friends Church. Some of the testimony included volunteers reading aloud statements written by people too nervous to come to the meeting — the council commended some in the audience who attended as part of a citizenship class.
During the council's debate on the resolution, several councilors took issue with aspects of the wording, especially concern that the hybrid resolution accomplishes all that Unidos wanted its original proposal to achieve.
Councilor Stephen McKinney called for someone in the audience — Unidos volunteer Cherice Bock stepped forward — to speak directly to this issue. Gently calling attention to the lack of diversity on the council, she reminded councilors of the fear expressed during public testimony and noted that their goal was to address a "breakdown in communication" regarding state law.
"We are not asking the city to do something that is against the law. We are asking for the law to be upheld in ways that are empathetic and loving and keep families together as much as possible," she said, adding that the goal is to ensure that community services are extended to these residents.
McKinney was the sole councilor not to vote for the resolution, opting to abstain over concerns that the resolution was provided to councilors just hours before the meeting started and there had not been time to adequately debate the finer points of the language. He noted that he had been inundated with calls and questions regarding this resolution from some in favor and some opposed, though none of those detractors gave input at the meeting.
"It is symbolic, but in terms of the process … it deeply distresses me that something of this importance comes to us at 3:02 in the afternoon," McKinney said. "I will not be voting for or against this major because of this is at best a flawed process here."
While agreeing that the resolution arrived late, Councilor Patrick Johnson countered that they had all known this resolution was coming for weeks. Given several recent public hearings where residents testified, did not get their way and questioned the value of testifying at all, he worried about alienating more residents if the council were to put off voting for a resolution that is fairly straight forward.
"We have definitive criteria we have to follow, we have a resolution saying 'hey, we're going to follow it' and we have a whole bunch of people in this room here testifying saying 'hey, follow the law.' It's a slam dunk," Johnson said. "If we take all this testimony and all these folks who took time to come out tonight and turn them away … I just worry about the erosion of that public trust."
Mayor Bob Andrews acknowledged his own concerns with some of the wording, but noted "I don't think we're providing a sanctuary. We're saying our arms are open, okay, our arms are open and our hearts are open."
At his announcement that the resolution was approved 6-0, the audience of at least 60 people applauded and cheered before filing out of the room. The resolution took effect immediately after it was passed.