A group of about 40 people came to the Tigard City Council meeting last week and asked that the elected officials declare Tigard a sanctuary city.
The group made their pitch poorly and unartfully. It was a master class in how not to ask for changes in a city.
Nevertheless, the City Council should pay heed. Mayor John L. Cook should schedule a public hearing with enough time for people to be heard — following which, the city should make the declaration.
The mayor and councilors shouldn't let the amateur-hour antics of the protesters camouflage the basic correctness of the situation.
First, a couple of clarifications.
The term "sanctuary city" means that city officials — including police officers — will not ask about a person's immigration status in the course of their regular work. If a person comes to the police station to report a theft or abuse, for example, one of the questions they won't get asked is, "Are you here legally?"
Why? Because such a question has a chilling effect on people going to the police — or to any other city agency — to report problems.
Immigration law is a matter for federal authorities. Municipal law is a matter for a city. If you're the victim of a robbery, you don't inform the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Likewise, cities don't guard borders, just like they don't print money. And keeping a clear separation of the responsibilities of government is simply good governance.
Clarification two: "Sanctuary city" is not a legal definition. It's something a city can call itself if it so chooses. Same with counties and states. Mayor Cook likes to talk about Tigard as "the most walkable" city in Oregon. That's fine. He should aspire to that, even though the term has no legal definition. It's simply a declaration.
Clarification three: Oregon has declared itself a "sanctuary state," and all communities therein are, therefore, de facto sanctuaries. In fact, case law now states that it is illegal in Oregon for a county to detain suspected illegal immigrants merely because ICE asks them to. In 2012, Clackamas County found out the hard way — to the tune of a $100,000 settlement — not to challenge that rule.
Despite all that, Mayor Cook and the City Council should hold a hearing on the topic, should let people be heard, and should make the declaration, just as Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro have. Declaring itself a sanctuary city sends the message that every Tigard resident has equal protection and equal status in the eyes of City Hall.
That's an important symbol.
What the city leaders shouldn't do is be put off by the ham-handed approach of Washco Solidarity, which parachuted into last week's meeting oblivious to everything else on the city's agenda. The protesters were there to present a resolution to make Tigard a sanctuary city. Also, that black lives matter; supporting reproductive rights; endorsing renewable energy; pre-determining which employees should be fired for violating the resolution; and outlawing some tattoos on police officers. In light of that laundry list, it's surprising that Washco Solidarity didn't ask for a pony.
Resolutions should not be Swiss Army knives. They should do one thing and one thing only. A resolution to declare Tigard a sanctuary city is an entirely reasonable proposal. But asked if that action, alone, would satisfy the ground, one of the organizers, David Carlson, said "no."
We wonder if the other people wanting a sanctuary city designation agree. We suspect not.
The city shouldn't let the messenger get in the way of the message. Tigard should be declared a sanctuary city, sending a message to all residents that they are welcome within the city. That message would be a balm right now, as emotions and harsh rhetoric dominate the dialog in Washington, D.C.
That's the right thing to do.