Tacoma City Council is forming an Immigrant and Refugee Task Force to develop policies and procedures for the city with the mission of “ensuring all Tacoma residents feel valued, secure, and supported, and that we continue to live out our vision for Tacoma to be an inclusive and equitable place to live, work and play” regardless of immigration status.
The resolution, which passed unanimously, created the task force just days after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that temporarily barred immigration from predominantly Muslim countries – Libya, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – for four months and outlined a plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico that would be paid for through tariffs on products made in Mexico. The city’s task force falls short of what other cities have done by declaring themselves “sanctuary cities,” for undocumented residents at the risk of the Trump administration following through on its threat to withhold federal funds for any city that makes such a declaration. Tacoma has been a declared member of the “Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative” for the last two years, which includes similar programs for immigrants.
"This isn't new for us,” resolution sponsor Councilmember Marty Campbell said. “This is an extension of what we have been working on for a year in the City of Tacoma. … This is who Tacoma is."
Councilmember Ryan Mello wanted the task force to produce a rolling roster of policy and program suggestions as the task force develops them, rather than spend months on the entire slate of proposed changes as a way to provide immediate relief sooner rather than later.
“There are real people in crisis,” Mello said. “This is real people in real crisis right now."
Cities and counties around the nation have called for comprehensive and reasonable immigration reform for more than 20 years, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, noting that Trump’s executive order only added to the confusion and contentiousness rather than solutions.
"I have little faith that we are going to get anything out of the federal government in the near future," she said. “We really just need to prepare ourselves for a steady diet of fear, outrage and chaos because that's how this administration looks like they are going to operate for a while."
She pointed out that Tacoma police officers make it a policy to not ask anyone’s immigration status and does not inform or participate in Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions within the city.
“We do not do the work of the federal government," she said, defending the decision to not risk the more than $200 million in federal funding of programs in the city that range from the Link extension to the Hilltop and affordable housing efforts with a declaration of Tacoma as a “sanctuary city.”
"In Tacoma, that money matters," she said. "It's not necessary because we are already doing the work – above and beyond – and we have been doing the work long before the current occupant of the White House took office."
She further urged people concerned about the White House’s stance of immigration issues to consider volunteering or donating to Tacoma Community House and the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We can either be silent or decide to act," she said.
Tacoma is home to the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest for-profit detention centers on the West Coast, housing some 1,500 detainees and the site of protests since it opened in 2004 at the 16-acre site on East J Street in the tideflats.
Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno wrote an open letter last month to parents of children in Tacoma public schools, stating that the district’s facilities are “a safe zone for immigrant students to learn and thrive” that also provides information to help immigrant and refugee students and families. Tacoma Public Schools hasn’t asked any student’s citizenship status since the 1980s.
“The diversity of our student body, our community and our staff is a strength that benefits all of us and should be celebrated,” Santorno wrote. “Our rich cultures and the more than 70 different languages spoken in our schools provides all children with the opportunity to learn from others with dissimilar backgrounds and recognizes our common humanity. Our mission is to serve every child that comes to our school doors, every day. We will continue providing all students their legal right to access free public K-12 education, regardless of their religion, their place of birth, their language, their citizenship, their immigration status, their parents’ status or any other legally-protected characteristics.”
“Assessing the South Sound's Prospects as a Welcoming Region Panel I: Immigrant contribution to urban revitalization,” will be offered at 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 16 at University of Washington- Tacoma’s William W. Philip Hall. More information is available at: http://www.tacoma.uw.edu/urban-studies/urban-studies-annual-forum.
Tacoma Community House will be holding its annual luncheon “Embracing the American Promise” at 11 a.m. on April 19, at the Hotel Murano’s Bicentennial Pavilion. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged to determine meal preferences. Call (253) 383-3951 or visit: tacomacommunityhouse.org for more information.
Tacoma Public School’s resource page can be found at: Tacomaschools.org/news/pages/Safe-Zones.aspx.