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Tualatin could declare itself sanctuary city

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A group from Tualatin High School came to Monday's council meeting to ask it to adopt a resolution.

FILE - Monday night's Tualatin City Council meeting was not Tualatin High School students' first foray into political activism. Hundreds of students joined other schools in a walkout last spring to protest a banner hung by a student at Forest Grove High School in support of now-President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to 'build a wall' on the Mexican border.Several members of the Tualatin City Council said Monday, May 8, that they would support proclaiming Tualatin to be a "sanctuary city," but any action will have to wait until its next meeting at the earliest.

A teacher, a counselor and two students from Tualatin High School's MEChA Club — a Latino student group — came to Monday's council meeting, held at the Tualatin Police Department, to urge the council to adopt a resolution similar to ones approved in Beaverton and Hillsboro earlier this year. Such a declaration would make a statement on behalf of Tualatin's immigrant and Spanish-speaking populations, they argued.

"This is a really powerful way to just declare, in a very public way, that we are supportive of our undocumented students and their families," said Caroline Hay, the club's faculty advisor. Immigrants, she added, "do a lot in this community — both documented and undocumented immigrants,"

Katerina Toms spoke emotionally about her interactions with students as a school counselor. Many are frightened their parents or siblings could be deported, she said, and some are so afraid that they have stopped coming to school.

She said, "They're afraid. We're afraid. So I go home with a heavy heart, and I can't shake off the fears that my kids are feeling."

Student Angel Ramirez had to pause briefly in his remarks after talking about how welcoming Tualatin felt when he moved to the city about nine years ago after living in an area where he felt unsafe. Conditions have changed, he said — Donald Trump was narrowly elected president last November on a platform that emphasized taking a hard line against illegal immigration, including deporting millions who are living in the United States without proper documentation, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has ramped up its activity both locally and nationally since he took office in January — and he and others no longer feel as safe.

"I hope that from hearing this, Tualatin makes the right decision and brings back that safety, that kindness, that beauty that I know the city has," Ramirez said.

Mayor Lou Ogden called Hay, Toms, Ramirez and MEChA Vice President Nancy Munoz back up after all four spoke, a somewhat unusual departure from the council's usual procedure of hearing public comments and then moving onto the next part of the agenda. He said he appreciated hearing from them but wanted to understand better what impact they hoped to make.

Led by Ogden, a majority of council members agreed they wanted to hold a work session to talk about the sanctuary city resolution rather than voting on it immediately.

"The City Council's been criticized for not having an open discussions on all items of the city," Councilor Frank Bubenik said. While he is "very supportive," he said, "I'd like to give the other side a chance to discuss this also. So, not trying to kick the can down the road, but we've got to have public discussion and those folks who maybe oppose this, give them an opportunity to say why they oppose it."

Councilor Nancy Grimes agreed with Bubenik that there was likely a majority on the council willing to adopt a resolution like the one the Tualatin High group brought forward. But she said she wants to have a community discussion about ways to make members of the community feel safe where they live.

"I just want to make sure that our effort matches the effort that you guys have made in coming here," Grimes said.

Councilor Jeff DeHaan was the lone holdout. He said the issue is urgent. Like Ogden and Grimes, he pointed to "unity statements" the city has already put out in recent months to affirm its commitment to serving all its residents equally, but he took the view that the city has essentially made its position known already.

"I just don't see that we need to change ('sanctuary') to a different word," DeHaan said. "I don't see that we need to have an ice cream social to talk about it. This is happening right now, and this is our chance to weigh in."

DeHaan asked the group from Tualatin High what they wanted to see happen Monday night, and they responded that they would like the council to adopt the resolution if the votes were there.

At one point, Ramirez burst into tears.

"How long?" he asked. "It's obvious that people are scared. … Kids are not going to school. They are scared for their lives."

Ogden and Grimes responded sympathetically.

"I promise, it's not going away. It's not getting tabled. It's not getting pushed away under a rug, in a closet or corner, I promise," Grimes said, adding, "Please don't think that you're not being heard and that nothing's happening."

DeHaan moved that the council pass the resolution that night, but the motion did not receive a second. Council President Joelle Davis then moved that the council place it on the agenda for discussion at its next work session, to which councilors agreed.

Davis urged the group from Tualatin High to "get mobilized" and bring in as many students as possible to "tell their stories."

She added, "Because we need to hear them. Because the other voices are going to show up. You guys need to be there, OK?"

Tualatin is just the latest city in Washington County where residents have approached their city council about a sanctuary city declaration.

The Beaverton and Hillsboro city councils declared their cities to be sanctuaries earlier this year. So did the Portland City Council in neighboring Multnomah County.

In Tigard, activists loosely organized by the group Washco Solidarity appeared at two council meetings last month to urge councilors to adopt a sanctuary city resolution. That push has met with virtually no response from the Tigard City Council, with Mayor John L. Cook saying it would take three of the five council members bringing the issue forward in order for the full body to consider it, although Cook did read a statement of unity after the council heard from both opponents and supporters of a sanctuary city declaration at an April 25 meeting in Tigard.

In Forest Grove, a sanctuary city measure was voted down on a tie vote of the City Council in January, though the council unanimously adopted a resolution the following month declaring the city to be an "inclusive community for all persons."

The sanctuary city self-designation is largely symbolic, as Oregon has had a state law on the books since 1987 forbidding state or local law enforcement agencies from using public resources to pursue people solely on the basis of their immigration status.

Despite the state law and local sanctuary city declarations, ICE still operates in Oregon, where it has reportedly carried out dozens of immigration-related arrests since Trump took office. Tualatin cannot prevent ICE from enforcing federal immigration law, even if it does declare itself a sanctuary city, Ogden warned.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to make note of the "statement of unity" issued by the City of Tigard following calls from some residents and activists for a "sanctuary city" declaration.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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