Libby Palmer, Katie Franco and other members of the nonprofit Jefferson County Immigrant Rights Advocates (JCIRA) want people to know legal help for immigrants is available in Port Townsend.To get …
Libby Palmer, Katie Franco and other members of the nonprofit Jefferson County Immigrant Rights Advocates (JCIRA) want people to know legal help for immigrants is available in Port Townsend.
To get the word out about the availability of legal assistance, signs were posted on 11 Jefferson Transit buses in April. The signs, in both English and Spanish, are aimed at spreading the word that volunteer Department of Justice–accredited representatives from the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center can help local immigrants with most immigration matters, for free or low cost.
“Immigrants can have an initial interview for either no cost at all or for only $30. At that interview, they’ll get an estimate of possible future application fees. All helpers are trained volunteers, and no fee is charged for their services,” said Palmer.
CALL TO ACTION
Palmer, who is chairwoman of the advocates group, and Franco, vice chairwoman of the group, have been involved in immigration issues for a decade, long before Donald Trump was elected.
Back in 2008, the U.S. Border Patrol set up checkpoints along State Route 104 and U.S. Highway 101, and patrol agents would ask vehicle occupants about their citizenship. The practice drew criticism and concerns. A forum in Chimacum was attended by 400 people in November of that year. Speakers at that forum included representatives of the Border Patrol, the ACLU, Northwest Immigration Rights Project, Washington Defender Association and representatives of the Port Townsend Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
The checkpoints were discontinued, but the Border Patrol presence has grown.
After Trump was elected on campaign promises of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and ending a program that helps undocumented immigrants become citizens, the women said they realized that another call to action needed to happen locally.
Palmer and Franco said they recognized the danger in Trump’s rhetoric as soon as he started campaigning. They appeared before the Port Townsend City Council and Jefferson Board of County Commissioners to request both to adopt policies defending the rights of immigrants.
“After the election and especially after the Women’s March, we went into action, together with many other members,” Franco said.
The group quickly grew from two to 12, and then to the current 15-25 people who meet regularly. There are also 169 supporters on the JCIRA newsletter email list.
JCIRA also is responsible for the yard signs throughout Port Townsend that declare an objection to a ban on Muslims. Three hundred signs were made, and 280 have either been sold or given away.
IMMIGRANTS IN NEED
Palmer and Franco say they believe there are about 200 immigrants in the community who need help, people who might not know help is available for renewing a green card or applying for citizenship.
Both Franco and Palmer fear things may get worse for immigrants.
“When Trump said there was no negotiation (over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), that really put fear in hearts and minds,” Franco said.
Although they have not heard of any recent Border Patrol interventions in Jefferson County, both said they have heard that the patrol’s presence is constant.
Palmer said landscaping crews and construction workers, now out and about in spring, are easy targets for Border Patrol agents.
“A friend of mine who is neither an immigrant nor dark-skinned was stopped on Hastings. The Border Patrol just pulled up, looked at him and waved him to move on,” Franco said. “That raises questions of racial profiling,” said Palmer.
Both said they know of people in Port Townsend who are at risk for deportation.
And it is not clear if there are any places where immigrants might be safe, such as a church.
“The policies of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) say they aren’t going to target churches, schools and hospitals, but they’ve already violated that,” Palmer said. “They’ve picked up people who were paying fines, even people going in for brain surgery,” she added of incidents that have occurred in other parts of the country.
Both Palmer and Franco say the ordeal of renewing a green card or applying for citizenship can be daunting.
“It’s worse than a maze,” said Palmer, elaborating on how missing a letter in the mail could result in a follow-up letter that informs the recipient, “You’re being deported.”
That is why the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center is working with JCIRA in Jefferson County.
“(JCIRA is) an older group than we are, and they are about providing trained, competent legal services for people who want to get their green card renewed or who want to start the citizenship process. They also work with people in the Northwest Detention Center,” Palmer said.
“If you call that number on the JCIR bus sign, tell them you live in Port Townsend. An accredited representative from either KIAC or JCIR will meet with you here,” Palmer said of the service that the two are promoting.
NATION OF IMMIGRANTS
Palmer and Franco have personal reasons for supporting immigrants.
Palmer recalls how her father, who was from Poland and Russia, was part of an organization in New York.
“I grew up with him going to the post office with packages of clothing and blankets and sending money and then contacting people when they came to the country,” Palmer said, expressing concern about Trump coming down hard on people from Mexico.
“I want to make sure my town doesn’t end up expressing or harboring any of those feelings, even for a small number of people. The number of Japanese people on Bainbridge Island (who were interned in camps during World War II) was small, too.”
For Franco, who teaches English as a second language, it’s about family.
“I’m connected to the Mexican community. My daughter lives in Mexico and is married to a Mexican. So my granddaughters are Mexican,” Franco said. “I love Port Townsend dearly. I think it’s a wonderful place to live. I hate to think that there is a percentage of our people who live in fear. I’ve always reached out to people who have no voice.”
Palmer also feels a need for cultural connection in Port Townsend. She said people should look around the city and realize that immigrants are enriching the community. There are Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Thai people, for example, all offering a taste of their homelands in restaurants.
Palmer and Franco say they have been contacted by people in Sequim who are thinking about starting a similar group there.
“But it takes awhile to establish trust and build a core group of people,” said Palmer. “We already had been active 10 years ago. It was easy to get the group going again.”
There are plans to create rack cards about legal services offered by JCIRA and KIAC. The information would go to health clinics, libraries, schools and food banks.
While neither Jefferson County nor Port Townsend has been declared a “sanctuary” county or city – cities that limit their cooperation to enforce immigration law – Palmer said that after Jefferson County passed a human rights proclamation on Feb. 6, 2017, Franco translated it for a group of immigrants.
And they all applauded.
“They didn’t know that there was a city or a county here that supported them,” said Palmer.
“Sanctuary means you agree to be that family’s defender,” said Palmer. “Sanctuary is the space around the person who is in trouble.”