Part 3: Notes on the 7/15/19 Bellingham City Council Justice Committee meeting regarding immigration – new meeting on 8/19/19 / Noisy Waters Northwest

Click the graphic – of a screen shot of a YouTube video frame showing Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville in a purple shirt sitting in a chair in Council Chambers – to access the video of the 7/15/19 Justice Committee Meeting

August 16, 2019 Dena Jensen

This is the final installment of notes on the July 15, 2019 Bellingham City Council Justice Committee meeting regarding immigration issues. The next Justice Committee meeting will occur this Monday, August 19, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. in Council chambers. Here is a link for the agenda for that meeting https://meetings.cob.org/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=2059&doctype=1

While the July 15 Justice Committee meeting focused entirely on issues related to immigration, the August 19 meeting will focus on a number of topics listed as the following:

  1. Overview of Citywide and Departmental Policies Related to the Provision of City Services
  2. Join Hands Against Hate
  3. Discussion About Formation of a “Work Group” on Immigration

Here is the description from the agenda bill related to the third topic above:

“Summary Statement: Since the approval of Ordinance 2017-02-008 in February of 2017, community members have been calling for the formation of a formal ‘Work Group’ to address matters related to immigration and the protection for immigrant families in Bellingham. This discussion will include the opportunity for presentations from Rosalinda Guillen (or another representative from Community to Community Development (C2C)) and Ruby Castaneda (or another representative from Raid Relief to Reunite Families (RRRF)) regarding the key elements of a ‘Work Group’ on matters related to immigration.”

I feel it is important to provide a detailed accounting of what was said about issues related to immigration at that July 15 meeting since they are at the center of a crisis being experienced by immigrants in our own community, along with other impacted community members, due to the escalating enforcement of oppressive and damaging federal immigration laws in our country.

Here is a link to Part One of my notes on that July 15 meeting which I posted on July 21, 2019: https://noisywatersnw.com/2019/07/21/notes-on-the-7-15-19-bellingham-city-council-justice-committee-meeting-regarding-immigration-part-one-noisy-waters-northwest/

During that segment of their meeting Bellingham City Council Member and Justice Committee Chair Hannah Stone had indicated what things she hoped to accomplish with Justice Committee work regarding immigration:

  • A needs assessment gathered from impacted members of the immigrant community
  • Reviewing the ordinance regarding immigration that the City Council had passed back on February 13, 2019, and any related policies underlying that ordinance
  • Looking at measures for accountability in the City’s responses when action is taken within city limits, and also accountability and transparency for any processes, like the safe spaces contract with the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center, that the City might put in place

Here is a link to Part Two of my notes on the the meeting: https://noisywatersnw.com/2019/08/10/part-two-notes-on-the-7-15-19-bellingham-city-council-justice-committee-meeting-regarding-immigration-noisy-waters-northwest/

During that second segment of the meeting Council and Committee Members continued in a discussion of how they would approach the priorities Council Member Stone had identified at the beginning of the meeting. It was clarified that the needs assessment with members of the community would be a separate process from the Council reviewing policy issues surrounding their ordinance regarding immigration passed in February 2017. Mayor Linville confirmed that her office was already keeping track of what they will need to be doing to implement state law related to the Keep Washington Working Act, “Establishing a statewide policy supporting Washington state’s economy and immigrants’ role in the workplace.”

Here are my notes from the final third of the meeting, starting at around 00:30:00 on the video.

Council Member and Justice Committee Member Pinky Vargas: 

She wants to reiterate some of the things that Mayor Linville said. If they look back to when Council Members first had the discussion [about a safe space for community members to submit complaints about such things as discrimination] about whether they wanted an ombudsman, whether they wanted a separate review, all of those things – at the time, Council Members had said they wanted to start with just an agency that could record any issues, or disagreements or whatever those are, or whether people felt safety. 

So as a Council they had agreed on that. Because of budget implications, they needed to do a needs assessment to find out how people were actually coming to that department to see if this was something the City needs to invest in – doing the needs assessment before they would figure out what their next step would be and also what the budget implications would be.

Mayor Kelli Linville:

She wants to clarify something. She says that she is obviously going to be held accountable for doing it right, so she wants to make sure she knows what right is. They did this idea of what they expected from the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center as a pilot to see how many people would walk through the door, does it work, is it not implementable or whatever the problem might be. 

The second part was the needs assessment that the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center did – it was quite extensive – before they came up with their recommendations. Their recommendations were based on a lot of different things: the size of the community; the size of the problem that they had identified. Mayor Linville says she heard Council Member Stone say, and other people say, that they didn’t talk to the right people.

What she would say, is can they start with what the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center has already done, because they invested a lot of time and resources into getting whatever the baseline is. 

It would be good to know then what the next step is. That will slow things down. 

She says if the information is not going to be trusted then the solution should come up that they’re not going to be trusted. She understands that. She thinks there is a lot of moving pieces. It went from simple – everyone gets an opportunity to have help – to much more complicated with everything that came out in their survey.

Council Member and Justice Committee Chair Hannah Stone: 

She says they will certainly look at that information. The process may be slow but showing that investment and commitment in moving forward shows there’s positive work being done.

Council Member and Justice Committee Member April Barker:

She clarifies that she sees three different things.  Council Member Stone is going to go back and look at the ordinance [that the Bellingham City Council passed regarding immigration in February 2017] and title, bring back some recommendations, and have a workgroup session in Council Chambers. There is the safe spaces that is on its way now. Then there is that third piece that is much broader than immigration with civil rights and the City following its policies and the appearance of fairness that is going to be important. 

She says one of the steps that they could do is bring an agenda bill forward that goes back to the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center report on the specifics of recommendations for the issue of what is the impartial review of what is happening? The Mayor had mentioned that sometimes they would go out to a third party. It would be good to get a report on when that is triggered and who are those third parties. Then the Council can determine if that procedure seems to be working. Does Council not insert themselves or do they want to bring up a Council policy with budget implications on something very specific whether on a person or contracting with an agency. 

She clarifies, an agenda bill going back to the original needs assessment that was specific to the piece that somebody perceived an injustice that happened, and how do they know that had an impartial review. Then they can learn more from the Mayor and staff through a presentation about what they already do.  She was aware of something with the police department but was not aware of some of the things the Mayor had indicated.  She thinks this would be important for the community to know. From there they could go further to explore what the budget implications would be.

Council Member Stone:

She indicates this is helpful.

Council Member Vargas:

She indicates she agrees with all of those clarifications of Council Member Barker’s.

Council Member Michael Lilliquist:

He says he wants to ask a question of the Administration but he wants to support what he’s hearing regarding the distinction that the safe spaces initiative leaves some unresolved and important issues, issues that were identified in the very beginning and issues that still need to be dealt with.

He knows that they don’t want to focus entirely on law enforcement but the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement provides a great deal of information on models and different features that would need to be seen in any kind of oversight mechanism. He thinks that the Council could borrow from those teachings for more general oversight mechanisms as well. He feels that oversight can be generalized.

His question has to do with the state law which requires state agencies to oversee their databases, including databases used by vendors to make sure that the information contained in there can’t be used in a harmful way against people. He says there is a similar provision, two provisions, in the City’s ordinance regarding immigration where departments were to review practices and policies to look for ways that they might be in conflict with the then newly-passed law. And another the requirement that the City departments again review all forms and materials and record keeping to see if there was material being kept there that was inappropriate, unnecessary, and potentially contrary to the purpose of the ordinance.

He says he doesn’t recall hearing back formally from the Administration that such a review went forward. He thinks it would be nice for the public to hear that that what has been done in regard to something like this that was a provision of the ordinance. He would like to publicly hear back on that, whenever.

Council Member Terry Bornemann:

He says back when they first wrote the ordinance regarding immigration and they had met and worked on the drafting of it with leaders of C2C and the students [WWU Blue Group] on the language that the Council put in. He says they walked out of the room after a caucus, all of them agreeing that this was okay, and then that kind of changed a little bit. Two of the issues that came up, one was about the use of the word sanctuary city and he knows he specifically asked that question: is it important that we have the word in there? And it was said, no, it’s the policies that are important.

He says as they have seen since then, just having that one word in there has caused confusion and it’s easy to spin things about what’s there and not there as long as it doesn’t have the word. So he would like to see them look at that part.

He says there was an original ask for an oversight committee that would have subpoena power and that was kind of a no-go from the Council at the time. He is glad to see that they are looking at separating the ordinance because he thinks the review of the ordinance and getting this out there is really critical on a time level. The other parts, as they see, have gotten more complicated than they should have been or needed to be.

He thinks getting the ordinance part addressed is really critical.

Council Member Stone:

She says there was a motion requesting the Mayor’s office along with staff – 

COB Legislative Assistant Monea Kerr:

It was, April moved to direct the full Council to request the Mayor to direct her staff to follow the model policy process and report back to the Council and Committee of the Whole with recommendations. 

Council Member Stone:

She says the only thing she was going to mention is that the model policy would be coming forth from the Attorney General’s office, which will be sometime in the next 12 months.  She doesn’t know if that’s a motion they want to make right now or if they want to table that for when the recommendations come forward?

Council Member Barker:

She says for her it’s now. Mark [Garnder] keeps a record of these things so people can go back and see where are we at and what needs to happen. It sounds like the direction is already going to happen. It will help Council Members on their end hold themselves accountable. So she would still like the motion to be what it is.

Mayor Linville:

She says that’s fine.  She would like the time frame to be put in there because many times they ask for something if they are working with the Attorney General’s office and they are not able to come back in the next month or next three months. So if there’s something separate from that it’s important to put the timeframe on there also. 

Council Member Stone:

She seeks to clarify: the timeframe for the response, once the Attorney General issues -?

Mayor Linville:

She says no, for whatever Council Member Barker’s timeframe is for the information she wants.

Council Member Barker:

She says the motion says to follow that process and then when they give that recommendation than to bring that to Council. It’s dependent on the Attorney General’s –

 Mayor Linville:

She says that would be good to have that included.

Council Member Vargas:

She says she likes adding the fact that they don’t know when the Attorney General’s recommendation is going to come in, so it’s tentative when Council can go through it. She is fine with the motion.

Council Member Stone:

She asks for all those in favor of the motion. [The motion passes 3-0]

Council Member Dan Hammill:

He says he has a request that regarding the process of reexamining the ordinance that they please look at the potential changes in federal law that criminalize civil or administrative violations. He just wants to make sure that the Council has really solid language around that.

Mayor Linville:

She says Peter [Ruffatto, City Attorney] is already looking into that. 

Council Member Stone:

She announces end of committee.

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