Since the election of Donald Trump six weeks ago, dozens of “sanctuary cities” across the country — at least 37, according to a recent Politico analysis — have taken steps to reaffirm their commitment to refusing to cooperate with the efforts of federal immigration enforcement officials.
Seattle and Portland are both on the list.
This, despite threats from the incoming president to make these cities regret the decision, including a promise to cut federal funding.
And it hasn’t just been cities reaffirming their sanctuary city pledges. According to the same Politico analysis, “at least four cities have newly declared themselves sanctuary cities since Trump’s win.”
That tally was published Dec. 12. A day later, Olympia joined the list — with the City Council there unanimously passing a resolution that, as the Olympian’s Andy Hobbs reported, promises that city officials “will not inquire upon a resident’s immigration status in providing municipal services or in the course of law enforcement.”
Olympia’s new sanctuary city resolution also directs employees to refuse requests from a state or federal agency regarding a resident’s immigration status, and to refuse requests related to the enforcement of federal immigration policy.
Good moves, all around, I say. Yes, there’s part of the sanctuary city movement that’s symbolic, but even just the symbolism of unwavering support in times like these — when anti-immigrant rhetoric spews from the man about to assume the highest post in the land, and families are legitimately terrified about being ripped apart — is an important counterbalance.
Plus, it takes guts. It’s one thing for a city to say it stands behind all its people, it’s quite another to back up that pledge at the risk of precious federal dollars.
Which, here in the City of Destiny, raises the obvious question: Does Tacoma have the fortitude to follow suit?
From a city standpoint, this really, for most people, is about policing. We work really hard to have good relationships with the community and especially communities of color. It’s really more about practices. The reality is, TPD does not engage in any activities with ICE. … Our Police Department is focusing on solving local issues.
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland
I asked Mayor Marilyn Strickland this very question a few weeks back, while working on a column about efforts at the University of Puget Sound to declare the school a “sanctuary campus.”
“We have not had a policy discussion about this,” she said at the time.
Strickland did, however, point to Tacoma’s self-bestowed designation as a Welcoming City, a declaration the City Council has affirmed multiple times. The mayor also said that, for her, “it’s more about the practice of what do we do” — pointing out that Tacoma “does not discriminate against people based on immigration status when providing municipal services,” and that Tacoma police already adhere to the essence of what it means to be a sanctuary city.
“From a city standpoint, this really, for most people, is about policing. We work really hard to have good relationships with the community and especially communities of color,” Strickland said. “It’s really more about practices. The reality is, TPD does not engage in any activities with (immigration authorities). … Our Police Department is focusing on solving local issues.”
The mayor acknowledged that when someone is arrested by Tacoma police and sent to the Pierce County Jail, they may become subject to an ICE detainer — calling it “a county function,” and pointing out that TPD “takes someone to jail when they’ve committed a crime.” Again, the mayor stressed that TPD isn’t checking immigration status or targeting people who might be in the country illegally.
Strickland also acknowledged that a sanctuary city designation would be a bit hypocritical. “There’s a bit of contradiction when you have one of the largest detention centers in the country in your backyard,” Strickland said, referencing the privately owned and operated Northwest Detention Center, which opened in 2004 on Tacoma’s Tideflats and holds immigrants subject to deportation. It operates under a federal contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Of the potential loss of federal funding, Strickland said the blow could be substantial for Tacoma, since the city depends on it to “meet many of our community goals.”
The mayor’s take is fair and even pragmatic. Say what you will about Strickland, but her commitment to equity and empowerment for all Tacoma’s people is unassailable. Maybe adhering to the essence of what it means to be sanctuary really is all that’s important.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if maybe it’s not. Maybe taking a public stand in times like these — and risking federal dollars in the process — is exactly what the situation demands of us.
I suppose history will ultimately be the objective judge.
On my part, the question to Strickland was not a gotcha or the result of a wild hair. Part of the purpose of the movement at UPS, according to Monica DeHart, a professor of anthropology, and Nancy Bristow, a history professor, is to inspire a broader conversation about the need to protect immigrants in our community.
This is the beginning of a broader effort. … I think we’re talking about a statewide and regional effort.
University of Puget Sound History Professor Nancy Bristow
“Not only are campuses nationwide doing this, cities nationwide are doing it,” said Bristow. “This is the beginning of a broader effort. … I think we’re talking about a statewide and regional effort.”
DeHart added that creating a sanctuary campus in a place that hasn’t declared itself a sanctuary city can have only so much impact.
“Part of it is, obviously, we want to look out for community members, and assert a certain type of values and ethics,” DeHart told me. “It doesn’t help us to only protect our community while the rest (of Tacoma) is subjected to the draconian politics of deportation.”
In that light, DeHart said UPS’s effort would result in the creation of a “small island” in a sea of immigration uncertainty.
After its council unanimously passed Olympia’s sanctuary city resolution, Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones, reiterating the suggestion of a resident at the meeting, floated an intriguing possibility: Olympia should send its resolution to other jurisdictions in the region as an example to follow.
Perhaps Tacoma would be a good place to start.