Bellingham City Council Members express resistance to establishing workgroup to specifically address immigration issues / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic to access the Boards and Commissions page on the City of Bellingham website

April 18, 2019 Dena Jensen

On some occasions when attending Dignity Vigils at Bellingham City Hall, some of us who attend them gain some hints into the current positions of City of Bellingham elected officials regarding their position on addressing the injustices immigrants are facing in our community.

April 8, 2019 was one such occasion, where thanks to a fellow vigil attendee, a small hint was obtained. Since that time I have been following up on that hint with the Bellingham City Council. I am having an ongoing exchange with one of the Council Members individually, but I also sent in an email, which I am including in this blog post, to the full Council and Mayor Linville today.

I encourage everyone to contact the Bellingham City Council (ccmail@cob.org), and Mayor Linville (mayorsoffice@cob.org) to call on them to take down all barriers to interacting with immigrant advocacy groups and to forming a workgroup to work on policies and codes to protect immigrants in our community from persecution, often originating from the actions of our federal administration.

To my knowledge, after two years of the City Council’s virtual silence toward immigrant advocacy groups, Council Member Hannah Stone had met with at least two of these groups about a week or so after the February 25, 2019, Bellingham City Council Justice Committee meeting regarding immigration issues (of which, incidentally, these groups were not notified.) But there has not been any further communication with these two groups since that time.

Council Member Stone had recently confirmed with me in an email that Bellingham City Council Members had conveyed that they were resistant to establishing a workgroup that would specifically address immigration issues and that there is a preference to collectively address civil rights and/or human rights concerns.

Here is the letter I sent to the Bellingham City Council and Mayor Linville today, that was copied to the Whatcom County Council and County Executive Louws:

Dear Bellingham City Council and Mayor Linville:

I am writing related to requests from groups representing and supporting immigrants in our community that the Bellingham City Council form a workgroup to work on policy and code issues for which those groups have been requesting the Council’s attention for the last two years. 

As you are well aware, these groups have not been meaningfully consulted by the Council, in order to address injustices they have been suffering, for that two year period. Now, a first contact by Council Member Stone with at least two of those groups has occurred. It is my understanding these groups conveyed their desire to Council Member Stone, to work with City Council Members, by means of a workgroup, for as long as it would take (any number of weeks or months) to establish policy and code that both Council Members and community members could agree would provide additional necessary protections against the increasing level of persecution against immigrants of all statuses being created and executed by our federal government. 

It is additionally my understanding that some City Council Members have expressed resistance to establishing a workgroup that would specifically address immigration issues and that there is a preference to collectively address civil rights and/or human rights concerns. 

Right now, according to the COB website’s Boards and Commissions page, Bellingham government appears to have no civil rights or human rights focused board, committee, task force, or workgroup that is currently meeting. I do not know if there are a number of other individuals and groups experiencing injustices who are appealing to Council Members in a quest to achieve better City policy and/or code to protect them, and with whom Council Members are resisting communicating, in a similar fashion to how they are resisting meeting with members of such groups as Community to Community Development.  

I have a request of Council, that if you have been making plans about addressing any civil or human rights issues, can each of you point me to any actions the Council is taking to address these issues, through some planned process where you either will be – or won’t be – interacting with specific groups from our community. 

The desires of community groups supporting and representing the immigrant community have been being voiced on an ongoing basis for years now and still City Council Members and Mayor Linville seem to be taking a stance that continues to refuse to meaningfully reach out to these community members to create solutions to address the need to safeguard and promote their welfare.  

To my knowledge, only Council Member Stone has stated a commitment to reach out to these groups personally. And so far, I don’t know if there has been any more than one meeting with each of a few different groups that has occurred in the weeks after the February 25, 2019 Justice Committee meeting. 

I call on Council Members to cease taking a passive approach to what you maintain is your support of people of color and immigrants in our community. I call on you to prioritize your communications to the public, not as a means of explaining what you cannot do in your elected positions, but of what you can do and are doing. I call on you to make your voices heard as advocates against specific cases of discrimination and abuse that are being pointed out by those experiencing it. I call on you to not mix all injustices together for convenience, but to define and speak out against each one of which there is ample evidence, following it with consultation with negatively impacted groups or individuals and action to address the injustice whenever possible. I call on you to make effort to learn, from direct contact, why members of your community feel targeted by persecution and have reason to be currently distrustful of your good faith. 

Sincerely,

Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA


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