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'No' voters say term is misleading, worry about funding loss

MALYNDA WENZLThe Forest Grove City Council failed to pass a resolution that would declare Forest Grove a sanctuary city at their meeting Monday night, Jan. 23.

Councilors Matt Vandehey, Tim Rippe and Ron Thompson voted no while councilors Malynda Wenzl and Elena Uhing voted yes, along with Mayor Pete Truax. With the vote tied at 3-3, the resolution failed.

The resolution they voted on Monday was a virtual replica of the "sanctuary city" ordinance recently approved by the Beaverton City Council, defining the term "as a city that is committed to providing a safe community for individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, place of origin, or immigration status, and works to ensure that all members of our community are safe and can call for public safety assistance without fear of reprisal based solely on federal immigration status, in accordance with current Oregon law."

The resolution further explained that the city will comply with Oregon law, which states that no city employees or local police officers will inquire about anyone's immigration status.

Cities across the state have been considering making sanctuary city declarations after President Donald Trump promised to deport a large portion of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants during his campaign.

Trump has also promised to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities. Forest Grove is receiving about $4 million this fiscal year in federal funding, primarily for renovations of the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center and for road improvements being made to the Pacific Avenue and Quince Street intersection.

Wenzl urged her fellow councilors to "show compassion" and support the law, reminding them that City Attorney Paul Elsner said the resolution would not violate the law.

ELENA UHINGUhing said she has always been very committed to following the law and that $4 million in federal funding "is a huge piece of our budget" that would hurt social services if cut.

But she said she was inspired by a bumper sticker with the word "humankind" on it as she struggled with the issue. "I really implore my fellow councilors to stand firm for sanctuary city."

Truax claimed "the argument we would lose federal funding is a specious one" and noted the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled states can't be compelled to follow federal laws.

"The greatest reason for my favoring such a declaration is because it's the right thing to do," he said.

The three councilors who voted "no" all said they were moved by the public testimony and letters they had received on the subject.

"This is the hardest issue I've ever faced," said Thompson, who said he voted "no" primarily because he was afraid the city might lose federal funding.

"I will support everything else on the document," he said, but didn't want to risk using the term "sanctuary city."

Rippe said the "sanctuary" term has become secularized and politicized.

He noted that one pro-sanctuary woman testified at the previous council meeting that the senior center kitchen (which is being renovated using federal funds) was not worth more than her (Latino) neighbors. That comment denigrated Forest Grove seniors, Rippe said.

"Fear is felt by so many vulnerable citizens for various reasons," he said. "A label will not make those fears go away."

TIMOTHY RIPPERippe also decried people who tried to paint a "yes" vote as courageous and a "no" vote as cowardly.

Those are inflammatory terms, he said, noting that it takes courage for a person to stand up for their beliefs amid opposition.

"Communication, cooperation, compassion and care are all available right now in this city — without a label," he said.

Vandehey said his "no" vote was based more on his concern that people would think the term provides a protection it can't actually provide.

"We are not voting on whether or not we should show support to our concerned neighbors or if we should affirm our stance on the importance of diversity, safety and an inclusive community," he said. "All that goes without saying. We are voting on what words are best used to clearly convey our message."

With the term "sanctuary city" included, the resolution would give no additional security than one without it, he said. "It would simply be a statement."

MATT VANDEHEYBut with the term's historical interpretation as providing "immunity to arrest," some people might wrongly interpret the city's resolution the same way, he said.

Yet the resolution would not keep federal immigration control and enforcement officials from enforcing federal law in Forest Grove or potentially breaking up families in the process. So while the term "sanctuary city" might provide "a great sense of safety and security," Vandehey said, it would be "a false sense of security."

In addition, while "nobody knows how — or if — funding would be taken away from sanctuary cities, we have to recognize that adopting this title would only increase our risk."