July 27, 2019 Dena Jensen
One of the great election-related services that the Riveters Collective — which organizes and supports actions in Whatcom County and local communities — offers to our community, is their Ask Me Anything (AMA) events on Facebook, where members of their Facebook group can ask questions to find out what they want to know about candidates running for office during election season.
On July 25, 2019, at 7 p.m. current Whatcom County Council Member and candidate for Whatcom County Executive, Satpal Sidhu held his AMA.
I asked Council Member Sidhu a number of questions in that Facebook forum, some of which centered on his actions as a County Council Member over the years that he has served, regarding advancing a sanctuary ordinance, along with any actions he may have taken in support of farm workers during that time.
Council Member Sidhu has stated in some of the 2019 candidate forums that he presently supports a sanctuary ordinance and that he prioritizes protecting farm workers. In relation to these campaign remarks of his I wanted to confirm whether or not I was well enough informed about actions he had taken on these issues, as an elected official, at least over the last couple of years.
Council Member Sidhu responded to me and provided related information about immigration issues and farm workers in his comments. However, he failed to answer my questions and, in fact, excused himself from doing so.
I am posting my questions about these issues and Council Member Sidhu’s responses here, so that people have some additional information to consider, both, during this time before they may have cast their votes in the primary election, and also so that, if Council Member Sidhu becomes our next County Executive, we will know what things for which we need to advocate with him, and for which we need to hold him accountable, moving forward.
My question and Council Member Sidhu’s responses regarding farm workers
Dena Louise “There have been two farms in Whatcom County over the last few years that have made use of the H-2A visa program to hire farm workers. The H-2A workers at both of those farms suffered mistreatment, such as poor food and water, insufficient and improperly timed breaks, and withheld paychecks, to name a few.
“Farm workers also often endure wages not justly commensurate with their level of skill and their outlay of effort, not to mention exposure to pesticides and other workplace dangers.
“What kinds of efforts have you made during your time on the County Council to work with farm workers and their advocates to help ensure their work environment on Whatcom County farms is free of physical dangers, oppression, injustice, and mistreatment?
Vote Satpal Sidhu “The H2-A program is federal program developed to alleviate worker shortages on farms, factories, construction and other manual labor work opportunities. The federal government regulates and monitors this program. State L&I and Dept of Health are the lead agencies for monitoring these programs. “
Vote Satpal Sidhu “We have an immigration policy mess at the same time, where many people seeking a safe place to live and who are willing to work on such job opportunities are denied legal processes to obtain this employment.”
Vote Satpal Sidhu “Washington State Legislature recently passed a law that creates oversight mechanisms at the state level to avoid the problems which you referred to. I am committed to the provisions of Keep Washington Working regulation and support its implementation in our County.”
Vote Satpal Sidhu “The County Council has very little, if any, direct regulatory or supervisory role in this program. However, I am always happy to work with anyone and everyone to address any specific incidents that require attention.”
Dena Louise “Thank you for the information you provided me, Council Member Sidhu.”
“I would appreciate an answer to my question, please: What kinds of efforts have you made during your time on the County Council to work with farm workers and their advocates to help ensure their work environment on Whatcom County farms is free of physical dangers, oppression, injustice, and mistreatment?” Note: To date, Council Member Sidhu has not returned to the AMA to respond to this comment of mine.
My question and Council Member Sidhu’s responses regarding a sanctuary ordinance
Dena Louise “Since the subject was brought before the Whatcom County Council at their regular meeting two years ago in June of 2017, to my knowledge, the Council has not discussed the issue of a sanctuary ordinance. You were the only Council Member who did not offer input during that June 2017 County Council discussion.
“I have written over 30 emails directed to all of you County Council Members regarding protections for immigrants since that time, most of them urging Council Members to do outreach to the groups who had come forward with a request for a sanctuary ordinance. I never received any response from you regarding any of these emails that I have sent.
“These community members have clearly been under threat of apprehension, being incarcerated under unsafe and inhumane conditions, and being deported, as evidenced by their widely reported persecution in areas all over our nation and by the ICE raid in Bellingham last August.
“What efforts did you make during the last two years or more to bring Council Members and impacted members of the immigrant and undocumented community together to work on protections they have been actively and publicly requesting during that time?
Vote Satpal Sidhu “I am a first-generation immigrant, and I intimately know how federal agencies use different methods to implement our broken and dysfunctional immigration laws to asylum seekers and other people immigrating to United States.”
Vote Satpal Sidhu “Different Presidents over past 50 years have chosen to use their own set of priorities to implement immigration laws. I have worked tirelessly and successfully with many immigrant families in Whatcom County seeking asylum or other legal paths to US residency.”
Vote Satpal Sidhu “Only the families who benefited from my voluntary work in this arena know this. And I am happy with that.”
Vote Satpal Sidhu “I stand firmly with new state legislation “Keep Washington Working” and will work to see that all its provisions are properly implemented in Whatcom County. I propose that the county create an ombudsman position which would monitor procedural compliance and provide a reporting mechanism which county workers and residents could use to report violations without fear of reprisals.”
Dena Louise “Thank you for the information you provided me and for letting me know you have worked with immigrant families seeking asylum or other legal paths to US residency. Also I appreciate that you support the Keep Washington Working Act.
“I hope you could now please answer my question: What efforts did you make during the last two years or more to bring Council Members and impacted members of the immigrant and undocumented community together to work on protections they have been actively and publicly requesting during that time?”
Dena Louise “Council Member Sidhu. I also appreciate your passions and ways of doing community service for bettering our community. However, you are running for office, and I am your constituent and you have decided to take part in an event here that is specifically designed so that people can ask their questions of you. Therefore I believe that my questions about what you have done while in office regarding certain issues that are important to me – and which you are also stating during this election are important to you – deserve direct and honest answers from you.
“I do not mind that you highlight other things you have done that may in some way be related to my question. I do not mind you stating things you are willing to come out and support during campaign season. For some people on some issues, these can be things that may serve to mitigate cases where you may not have taken action on a particular issue that is important to them. In other cases, they may not. But a candidate being forthright and building honest relationships with their constituents, for me is essential to helping me know who I want as a representative. To me this is why it is important to directly answer questions asked by the people you represent.
“It is possible you will make it through the primary, Council Member Sidhu, and in that case, I certainly will not be supporting Tony Larson. I am looking for improvement in your actions, and priorities in relating to constituents. I am looking for improvement in your accountability, for taking ownership for times you could have done better. I am looking for an improvement in your ability to assure me that you have a plan for how you will do better moving forward.
“Therefore I hope you will reconsider answering my questions that you have not answered, in the interest of helping our community work together to find ways to accomplish goals you are now stating that you wish to accomplish.” Note: To date, Council Member Sidhu has not returned to the AMA to respond to this comment of mine.