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On the heels of sanctuary city debates throughout the region, Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center takes a stand

PHOTO COURTESY: VIRGINIA GARCIA MEMORIAL HEALTH CENTER - Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center announced Wednesday its stance on sanctuary cities. While the Hillsboro City Council has not yet declared Hillsboro a sanctuary city and Forest Grove's council voted Monday night to pass a resolution that stopped short of that official designation, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center is not waiting.

Instead, on Friday, Feb. 3, Virginia Garcia hung signs in its clinics declaring them "Safe Havens." The signs were posted in all 10 clinics and six school-based health centers.

While the safe haven designation carries no legal authority, the message it conveys to Virginia Garcia patients is that they and their private information are safe at all 16 of the Virginia Garcia sites. It also reminds the communities they serve that Virginia Garcia supports everyone regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or immigration status.

"Virginia Garcia is a local solution to the national problem of access to health care," said Gil Muñoz, CEO of VGMHC. "While Congress debates the future of health care, we will continue to provide great care to those who need it most in our community. Today that is one in every 15 people who live in Washington and Yamhill counties. We want them to know that we are here for them, regardless of who they are or where they were born."

The decision to hang the signs came on the heels of the Health Center Board of Directors' December approval of a resolution asking all the cities in which Virginia Garcia has clinics — Hillsboro, Cornelius, Beaverton, McMinnville, Tigard, Tualatin, Forest Grove and Newberg — to provide a safe community for all individuals, regardless of ethnicity or immigration status by declaring themselves sanctuary cities (at this time only Cornelius and Beaverton have made such declarations).

"People are afraid. This is just too important of an issue to sit back and wait for others to take the lead," said Serena Cruz, Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation executive director.

Oregon is one of seven sanctuary states in the nation and has been since 1987. Washington and Yamhill counties passed sanctuary resolutions in 2014, and the city of Cornelius declared itself a sanctuary city in November. Officials said Virginia Garcia will continue to ask communities in which it operates to become sanctuary cities, as well as work with local groups and organizations that also serve the community.

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