Sanctuary debate on: City Council hears both sides of controversy; may vote Feb. 27

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 2/14/17

Editor's note: Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is hosting a public conversation on what it means to be a sanctuary community at 4 p.m., Monday, Feb. 20. The time was incorrect in the …

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Sanctuary debate on: City Council hears both sides of controversy; may vote Feb. 27

Posted

Editor's note: Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is hosting a public conversation on what it means to be a sanctuary community at 4 p.m., Monday, Feb. 20. The time was incorrect in the Leader's print edition.

While a human rights proclamation passed Feb. 6 by Jefferson County Commissioners was greeted with applause, the Port Townsend City Council’s Feb. 13 workshop to discuss declaring Port Townsend a sanctuary city was met with divided responses from the moment the public was invited to speak.

“I don’t support this,” Brody Turner said. “These people don’t belong here. If they want to become legal, then fine. If we become a sanctuary or ‘welcoming’ city, then I will do my best to notify the authorities about these people. I don’t want to have to worry about these people, and whether they have criminal intent.”

“As a gay man, ever since I was born, everything I believed in or loved was considered illegal,” said Jason Victor Serinus, whose family fled the pogroms of Poland during World War II to come to America. “I am the grandson of immigrants who were not wanted in the United States.”

While Turner criticized Port Townsend Police Chief Mike Evans for promising not to pursue the immigration status of suspects of other crimes, Serinus expressed concerns that, if President Donald Trump is impeached, Vice President Mike Pence could use Trump’s executive order as a precedent to remove legal protections for LGBT Americans, as he did while governor of Indiana.

The council appointed council members Michelle Sandoval, Amy Howard and David Faber to an ad hoc committee to hash out a sanctuary city resolution, primarily by building out the council’s Dec. 5 resolution, and “doing a better job of articulating” the city’s values and policy details on this issue.

Mayor Deborah Stinson decided that the original slated date of Feb. 21 would be “overpromising” to deliver a draft resolution for review, so she revised the date to Feb. 27, at the earliest, for possible consideration at a special business meeting.

MORE RESPONSES

Karl Boettcher cited his time spent in the Middle East, living and working under oppressive conditions, when he asserted that some cultural gaps are too broad, claiming that many immigrants are not properly inculcated regarding American values. Gene and Karen Farr took another tack by questioning the priorities behind a sanctuary or “welcoming” city resolution.

“We can’t afford to take in every stray dog or cat,” Gene Farr said. “This will bring in more criminals, and more unskilled people who won’t know the language. They’ll be a burden on our social services, and will drive down our wages during a time when many of us are already struggling to find living-wage jobs.”

Karen Farr prefers to see those resources directed to homeless veterans and native-born families that are going hungry, while Lynn Hisey expressed her support for the Farrs by contending, “We don’t need a resolution to treat each other respectfully.”

On the flip side, David Berrian was one of several speakers to denounce what he saw as the “bullying” inherent in Trump’s immigration policies, as he called upon the community to stand up and stand beside those who would be marginalized by such measures.

“Research has shown that bullies take the silence of bystanders as confirmation that their actions are right and celebrated,” Berrian said.

Viki Sonntag sees a sanctuary city resolution as a statement “that would recognize the contributions of each member of the community,” as well as a counter to the narrative that America is divided along urban versus rural lines, since Port Townsend is itself a small country town.

While the City Council meeting drew attendees of similar events, including Fred Nussbaum and Dennis Daneau from the Jefferson County commissioners’ Feb. 6 meeting, and Alisha Douglas and Guatemalan-born Liseth Marroquin from the Feb. 13 Port Townsend post office protest, it also featured speakers who apologized for not being experienced at addressing the public.

Kareem Santiago deemed his immigrant status merely a “label” that society had placed on him.

“We’re all humans,” said Santiago, who interpreted some of the statements that other speakers had made as threatening. “We’re all looking for the same things: safety, water, food, four walls, and places to socialize and belong.”

Zhaleh Almaee spoke of her Iranian and Jewish heritage as she asked her fellow attendees to consider their own heritage.

“Unless you’re Native American, you are all immigrants,” said Almaee, a student of history who hopes not to see the worst parts of history repeated. “I would point out that you’re predominantly white, so you’re making a decision for people who you’re not. You have to make the best decisions you can for people you don’t know, and it’s not just immigrants. Many more marginalized people feel scared and targeted right now.”

More familiar faces at the podium included Michael LeDonna, former owner of Better Living Through Coffee, who noted that his grandparents came from Italy, and Florence Caplow, a minister of the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

“The Unitarian Church has already taken a strong stand in support of honoring the humanity of all those in our country,” said Caplow, who called upon Port Townsend to live up to its progressive history. “When the Chinese Exclusion Act saw the Chinese getting lynched in other towns, here in Port Townsend, we continued to support them as business owners and community members. We did not harm our Chinese immigrants.”

“We’re a small town,” LeDonna said. “If we attract any illegal immigrants, they’ll be summer tourists like the rest,” he added, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Beulah Kingsolver, executive director of Dove House Advocacy Services, contradicted claims of undocumented immigrants placing further strain on social services.

“They are actually the least likely to be using our services,” said Kingsolver, who pointed out that undocumented immigrants already live and work in Port Townsend. “Their children go to school here.”

Kingsolver worries about what the current sociopolitical climate is doing to her own children.

“Our kids are more fearful than they’ve ever been,” Kingsolver said. “My little boy was afraid that, if Trump built a wall, then we couldn’t get out. He wanted to move to Canada. This resolution is the right thing to do, not just for our immigrants, but for our next generations.”

COUNCIL REACTION

Council member Michelle Sandoval apologized for becoming visibly emotional as she recalled how her own mother, an immigrant, had become a citizen at the age of 51.

“It’s broken my heart to talk with immigrants who ask if they’ll be taken away if they drop their kids off at school, or if it’s safe for them to call the police,” Sandoval said. “America is the dream that its immigrants carried with them.”

“I work with marginalized communities within the community, and the level of fear I hear there is far greater than I’m hearing here,” fellow council member Amy Howard said. “I have seen a young white man yell ‘Heil Hitler’ into a room full of children, and we need to say that’s not OK.”

The council appointed Sandoval, Howard and David Faber to an ad hoc committee to hash out a sanctuary city resolution, primarily by building out the council’s Dec. 5 resolution, and “doing a better job of articulating” the city’s values and policy details on this issue.

To that end, Sandoval called for the resolution to address four specific points:

• Confirm the policies of the Jefferson County Jail toward the immigration status of its detainees.

• Change the proposed language regarding LGBT to reflect the inaccuracies noted by Serinus.

• Tailor the resolution toward the needs of a smaller city, as opposed to Seattle’s resolution.

• Refer to “residents” rather than “citizens” within the resolution.

In the meantime, the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is hosting a public conversation on what it means to be a sanctuary community at 4 p.m., Monday, Feb. 20. Contact Sonntag at 531-4676 or

vikis@ecopraxis.org for more details.

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