First glimpses of immigration enforcement communications data, police attendance at first Immigration Advisory Board meeting / Noisy Waters Northwest

Screenshot graphic shows small Zoom meeting image of City of Bellingham Administrator Brian Heinrich at the top of a shared computer screen image displaying text, in spreadsheet format, providing data regarding Customs and Border Patrol calls related to CBP dispatches to the City of Bellingham

June 26, 2020  Dena Jensen

On June 23, 2020 the first meeting of the City of Bellingham’s Immigration Advisory Board was held remotely, via Zoom.  A recording of the meeting has not yet been posted on the COB website. The meeting primarily covered member introductions and housekeeping issues such as whether Roberts Rules of Order would be adopted for meeting procedures, or if other models would be preferred and adopted.  However, some of the items being evaluated that night could prove critical in their impacts on how effective the IAB can be in addressing concerns and needs of immigrants, regardless of their status, in Bellingham. The notes below primarily cover those type of items that came up during the meeting.

First, here is a list of the board members present at this meeting and a rough capture of their remarks as they introduced themselves:

Ada Rumford – She is from Bellingham; attended UW; moved to New York; returned to Bellingham; interested in learning about cultures

Rick Qualls –  Lived in Bellingham since 1971; family was raised here; wants to listen to voices here in the community to learn how to help, engage, and tackle hurdles

Liz Darrow – Legislative Advocate with Community to Community Development; Represents concerns of C2C

Bridget Reeves – Motivated by her faith conviction; interested in creating radical hospitality spaces; she is Associate Executive Director with Lighthouse Mission Ministries; there are people who come to the Mission who are immigrants and she is interested in having it be a safe and welcoming space

Katie Winkleman – Involved with Ethnic Student Center at WWU; performed three years of academic research on white ally-ship

Danielle Siedleki – She is Canadian by birth from first generation immigrants

Seth Thomas – He has been in Bellingham since 2001; pastor at St James Presbyterian; interacts with Community to Community Development

Maria Isabel Cortez Zamora – She has been in the U.S. 20 years and in Bellingham 12 years; wants to build compassionate spaces

Ramon Torres – (his remarks were translated from Spanish through interpreter, Edgar Franks) He is President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia; he is here to represent farmworkers and immigrants; he is interested in lifting up voices of farmworkers so that they are protected

Jahn Zuniga Escobar – (his remarks were translated from Spanish through interpreter, Marisol Luna) He was apprehended in the ICE raid in 2018; detained 5 months in the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma; he was released and now has a work permit and is opening a small construction company; doesn’t want anyone to go through what he went through

Monika Cassidy – Was not present

Mayor Seth Fleetwood started off the meeting by welcoming people and introducing staff members and others in attendance: Janice Keller, who is the newly appointed communications director for the City of Bellingham; Monea Kerr, legislative assistant for the Bellingham City Council;  Brian Heinrich, COB deputy administrator; Bellingham Police Chief David Doll; Bellingham City Attorney Peter Ruffatto.

Mayor Fleetwood then handed the meeting off to Bellingham City Council Member Hannah Stone who facilitated the rest of the evening and volunteered to chair the board until board members are comfortable in selecting a member to become chairman.

This board is under the purview of City Council Member Dan Hammill’s Public Health Safety and Justice Committee so, at the urging of Liz Darrow, Council Member Stone indicated she would check with Council Member Hammill to see if she can continue in her role with the Board, rather than have Council Member Hammill take over that role.

It was Council Member Stone’s Justice Committee that, in 2019, had been involved in the process of forming the Immigration Advisory Board. However, after the new year, the Bellingham City Council’s Justice Committee was eliminated, and that is why Council Member Hammill’s committee now oversees the board.

One of the things that came up fairly early in the meeting was that Council Member Stone noted that when communications went out about the meeting to the board members, that an inquiry in the communication, as to whether any board members would require interpreters at the meeting, was asked in English. Council Member Stone acknowledged responsibility for this error. Communications Director Keller said the City would like to pay the interpreters who Ramon Torres and Jahn Zuniga Escobar had brought with them, and asked them to submit an invoice for their services.

Liz Darrow asked how the agenda was made this time.

Council Member Stone explained this had been done by staff, and she had reviewed it. There had been an entry on the agenda reading, “Resolution – Welcoming Refugees.” Council Member Stone explained that this was a resolution that had been brought  to the City Council by another group. She indicated it was her desire that all material that comes to the Council having to do with immigration, be reviewed by the Immigration Advisory Board first, and that there was no particular timeline in mind for reviewing the resolution and that such things were up to the board.

Janice Keller said that all board members would have the ability to have input on the agenda in the future.

Council Member Stone suggested different focuses the Immigration Advisory Board may want to explore, but expressed that the board does not have any ties to guidelines.

Liz Darrow urged that the board seek to narrow their focus to reviewing and evaluating data related to Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement interactions with local law enforcement, as well as reviewing whether practices are in compliance with regulations and laws.

At this point, Liz Darrow brought forward the question of why Bellingham Police Chief David Doll seemed to be joining with the group that evening. She wanted to know how community members find a safe space at these meetings with police being present.

In response to this, Council Member Stone talked about the requirements of the Attorney General’s office related to Senate Bill 5497, otherwise known as the Keep Washington Working Act, to create model policies limiting immigration enforcement to the fullest extent possible, and the requirements of local government agencies to create such model policies as well; a need for the City to advocate for actions regarding immigrants with the County; and the part that Chief Doll plays in responding to the concerns of immigrants.

Chief Doll also responded and asserted that the City of Bellingham is going “above and beyond” and wants police services to be available to everyone. He said he wants to listen at meetings and to understand, in order to remove barriers to service.

Janice Keller indicated that board members could decide, whether Chief Doll could attend with the access level of a panelist or, since the Immigration Advisory Board meetings are open to the public, with the access level of a member of the public.

Council Member Stone expressed that she would not ask for a vote of the board regarding this, since there was one person voicing concern. She mentioned concerns about police addressing people where they are.  She gave an example that Deputy Police Chief Flo Simon had joined the police force because of former negative experiences with police. Council Member Stone indicated she wants the meetings to provide a safe space.

A request was made that Chief Doll be considered an attendee.

Moving from the attendance of Chief Doll, there was a question of how data from the police department should be presented.

Liz Darrow stated she did not want that data to be presented by police.

Bridget Reeves commented that she thought it might be helpful to hear police explanations regarding the data in the form of brief presentations.

Katie Winkleman indicated that while she agreed, she recognized the significance of this period of time and offered that the board let the data speak for itself, objectively and that it was better, when seeking to dismantle systems of oppression, to not have data interpreted by people who have a stake in police.

Ramon Torres informed board members that one of the reasons he chose to be on the board is because he understood police would not be present, and having that presence was a little weird as an immigrant who represents immigrants. He agreed that Chief Doll should only be present as an attendee but he should not be on the board in the interest that the immigrant community feels safe and that information can be shared from the people.

During a discussion of how many City Staff members would be legally required to be present, Attorney Peter Ruffatto noted that this would be just one staff member, and it could be any staff member as long as they would be accountable to the mayor or municipality.

Bridget Reeves suggested that offering a 15 minute public comment period would be valuable.

Liz Darrow affirmed that public process was important.

Then Deputy Administrator Brian Heinrich shared his computer screen which displayed a spreadsheet with data regarding dispatches from Customs and Border Patrol to the City of Bellingham; contacts from CBP to Bellingham Police. He explained that the volume of data goes back to the creation of the ordinance to form the Immigration Advisory Board up to the most recent dispatches.

Katie Winkleman suggested that sorting features for the data would be helpful.

Deputy Administrator Heinrich said he would see what could be done to provide that.

Council Member Stone asked if the data reports could be provided in Spanish.

Janice Keller responded that that sounded doable.

City Attorney Ruffatto remarked that the reports would be considered public documents.

Council Member Stone offered that board members could decide if they wanted to post this type of information on the webpage for the Immigration Advisory Board.

After Bridget Reeves asked who would be creating the next agenda, Council Member Stone said it could be a group effort.

Liz Darrow mentioned that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate negative impact on farmworkers which makes it seem that they are expendable and an end to a means. She asked how people felt that fit in with the work of the board. She pointed out some numbers that demonstrated the high number of farmworkers infected with the virus in Yakima and pointed out that tight farmworker housing is insulting and is part of systemic things that need to change. She called for offering the remaining time of the meeting to those who were immigrants, Ramon and Jahn, to make remarks.

Ramon Torres said he wants to make sure that community knows about the board so they can share. If the board can show their commitment and if the community understands that police are not monitoring, then the community will participate.

Jahn Zuniga Escobar expressed his agreement with Ramon and emphasized the importance of a safe space being created on the board.

After this the board meeting was adjourned.