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Bellingham could consider naming itself a sanctuary city

Bellingham City Council could consider an ordinance declaring Bellingham a sanctuary city as early as Feb. 13, after local groups have asked for months that the city strengthen its policies that the city does not enforce federal immigration law.
Bellingham City Council could consider an ordinance declaring Bellingham a sanctuary city as early as Feb. 13, after local groups have asked for months that the city strengthen its policies that the city does not enforce federal immigration law. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

For months, people have called on Bellingham to officially declare itself a sanctuary city and strengthen its commitment not to enforce federal immigration law, and it now looks like City Council could consider an ordinance at its next meeting, Feb. 13.

Last week, just days before President Donald Trump signed an executive order to build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, and proposed cracking down on sanctuary cities, the Bellingham City Council again heard from dozens of concerned people who called for strengthened policies protecting people who are undocumented.

Earlier that day, Jan. 23, the council had opted to have members April Barker, Dan Hammill and Terry Bornemann work on a resolution or ordinance the council could vote on.

The “City Council Workgroup on Immigration” plans to meet this week with affected communities and immigrant rights advocacy groups, including Community to Community, Western Washington University Blue Group and the Racial Justice Coalition.

“We are deeply disturbed by the news that has come out of Washington, D.C., in the past week,” Barker, Hammill and Bornemann said with Mayor Kelli Linville in a statement released Monday.

“The new administration is advancing policies that we believe threaten the values of our country, and we cannot stand by while these policies endanger the residents of our city and communities across the nation.”

It’s likely the group will work on an ordinance to declare Bellingham a sanctuary city, or a similar name, and the document could include strengthened language around police or city policy, Barker said in an interview.

When Blue Group called on the city to declare itself a sanctuary back in November, shortly after the election, Linville pointed out that Bellingham police already were functioning that way, since officers by policy do not ask about immigration status, except in rare cases when it would be related to a crime.

However, considering recent events, Linville said in a Jan. 27 interview that the issue was bigger than something just affecting the community or Washington state, and the action of declaring the city a sanctuary is important for people.

“Originally I was focused on what we do,” Linville said. “There’s a symbolism piece and an actual performance piece. Since we are already committed to performing the goals of a sanctuary city, I’m comfortable calling it that.”

Whatcom County also does not hold people in jail simply because Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks them to. Sometimes when someone is booked into jail on suspicion of a crime, ICE will ask that agency to hold the person if their immigration status is in question, but Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo has said the county will not honor those “detainers,” especially as the jail already has issues with overcrowding.

“The City of Bellingham will stand up for the people in our community, and we will not waste vital police resources on misguided federal actions,” the workgroup on immigration’s statement reads. “We will do everything lawful in our power to protect our residents and visitors.”

Sanctuary cities could lose federal funding, under the executive order, except for those deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.

“Sometimes when you stand up for your principles, it costs you something,” Linville said in an interview. “We are going to be in clear communication with our federal representatives that they need to stand up and fight against this.”

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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