Forest Grove City Council's desicion on whether to designate the town a Sanctuary City drew a packed house
About 150 people packed a public hearing at the Forest Grove City Council meeting Monday night, Jan. 9, in order to ask councilors to designate Forest Grove a sanctuary city.
It would be a largely symbolic move indicating Forest Grove will provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants if President-elect Donald Trump's new administration tries to deport them.
Trump pledged in his campaign to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities. The federal government routinely provides grants to cities for a wide range of services, including child care and water treatment.
Forest Grove receives about $4 million a year in federal funding for everything from the Forest Grove Senior & Community Center to the road improvements being made to the Pacific Avenue and Quince Street intersection.
Including written testimonies, 38 people testified in favor of declaring Forest Grove a sanctuary city and four against. One speaker was undecided.
Many stressed the importance of the city council using the word 'sanctuary' in its resolution.
One woman acknowledged the risk of losing federal money but "if we know risk is associated with the word 'sanctuary' doesn't that mean we should use it? It means we are willing to risk ourselves."
"What's it worth to us to be able to confirm people feel safe in our schools?" Devon Downeysmith asked the council.
"Our community values are worth more," one woman said. "The senior center kitchen is not worth more than my neighbors."
Edgar Sanchez Fausto — a Forest Grove High School graduate, Pacific University student and member of the social equity subcommittee of the city's Sustainability Commission — told the council the word 'sanctuary' is a very important word in Mexico, his family's country of origin, and also for his family, personally.
"When cities declare that they're sanctuaries, those people know for a fact that they are welcome there — that they won't be torn away from their families, a fear that I have today and a fear that keeps people from going out into their communities and doing things," Sanchez Fausto said.
One woman said she is fearful for herself and her family even though they are all citizens. She reported that after researching the issue, she discovered 256 citizens were wrongly accused of being illegal immigrants between 2011 and 2014 and that some were even wrongfully deported. Her father, a citizen, has started carrying around his passport and birth certificate in recent months, she said.
Of those opposing the designation, one man said he understands that most illegal immigrants are hard-working people contributing to their communities.
But there are people all over the world who want to come to America, he said, and it's unfair to all those waiting to come through the process legally to allow illegal immigrants. He also worries about losing federal funding.
City Councilor Malynda Wenzl said she's a former history teacher who used to teach constitutional law and does not think the city would actually lose its funding. But even if it does, "at least we have each other and people feel safe here," she said. "I am completely in favor of the term 'sanctuary' and we cannot have a motto that says, 'a place where family and businesses thrive' if there is no safety here."
Councilors Uhing, Tom Johnston, Tim Rippe, Ron Thompson and Matt Vandehey were all unsure of using the term 'sanctuary.'
Oregon state law already has restrictions on local governments using local resources to enforce federal immigration laws. Part of the reasoning is that undocumented people should be able to report crimes to local police departments without fear that they themselves might then face deportation.
Portland's mayor has already declared Portland a sanctuary city, while the Cornelius, Beaverton and Hillsboro city councils have all read statements affirming their commitment to keeping their cities safe for all — without formally declaring themselves sanctuaries.
"It's all well and good for Cornelius, Hillsboro and Beaverton to say they're inclusive but we have to send a message that we are a 'sanctuary city,'" said Mayor Pete Truax at the end of the hearing.? "We cannot be a sustainable society if we do not take care of our economy, environment and people."
The council will address the topic again at its Jan. 23 meeting, Truax said.