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It sends a powerful message from the city that all residents are treated equally.

Earlier this year, Beaverton declared itself a "sanctuary city." This week, Tualatin did much the same, replacing the word "sanctuary" with "inclusive" — a stylistic change, but essentially the same message.

Tigard: It's time to follow suit.

The term "sanctuary city" isn't well understood. In fact, it has no legal definition, unlike, say, the Tree City USA designation, organized nationally by the Arbor Day Foundation.

What does it mean to be a sanctuary?

The primary definition is this: such cities will not act primarily as ex-officio agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. In the normal course of their work, city employees — and yes, that means police officers — will not ask people about their immigration status, legal or otherwise.

Police most certainly can ask about a person's history in the process of conducting an investigation. But that isn't the first question they ask.

Why is this important? Because immigrants — documented or not — are encouraged to turn to their cities and to police departments to report the same problems anyone else would. Have you witnessed a crime? Are you the victim of a crime? Then you should contact the police. That's called being a good citizen. And people won't do that if they fear that acting like a good citizen can get them kicked out of the country.

Likewise with other city agencies. Have a question about housing? About signage? About library services? Contact your city. And rest assured that doing so won't mean being forcibly separated from your loved ones.

The other important factor to remember is: Oregon is a "sanctuary state." Cities and counties cannot act as de factor ICE agents without running afoul of the state. This has been the law of the land since 1987.

And it's backed by case law. A 2014 decision by a U.S. District Court judge found Clackamas County in violation of a woman's constitutional rights when the county honored an ICE "detainer" — a request from one agency to another to hold a person in custody. The court decided the woman had been detained unlawfully, costing taxpayers $100,000.

So the question naturally arises: Why should a city bother with a designation that has no legal meaning?

Because it's a potent symbol.

A sanctuary status — even if the word "sanctuary" itself is artfully left out, as in Tualatin's case — means that every resident of the city has equal status in the eyes of the city. It means that the Native American resident has a set of rights identical to the Irish-American whose family came in the 19th century, and the Korean-American resident whose family came in the 20th century, and the Somali family who moved here within the last decade.

However your family got here, the city — and its police officers — see you as a resident. Period.

Yes, the current administration in Washington, D.C., has threatened financial retribution on cities that make the designation. The legal authority to do so is dubious, and remember: every city and every county in Oregon already is a "sanctuary," regardless of decree, because Oregon is a sanctuary, and because state law trumps municipal ordinances.

If there were no threats from Washington, then a City Council opting for the sanctuary designation would be doing the right thing. Under threat from Washington, it's both the right thing and brave.

Earlier this spring, Tigard ducked the issue of sanctuary status.

The time for ducking is past.

Step up.

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