While the Forest Grove City Council deliberated about a "sanctuary city" designation in front of a packed house last month, only a handful of people showed up Monday night to support a resolution that discourages harassment and declares the town a welcoming and appreciative place for all people.
The council unanimously passed the resolution declaring the city of Forest Grove an "inclusive community for all persons."
It was a follow-up to a previous, failed resolution that asked councilors to officially declare Forest Grove a "sanctuary city." The term has been a hot-button issue across Oregon, with several cities, including Beaverton, embracing it while others, such as Cornelius, have simply adopted statements of inclusivity and support for all people, regardless of immigration status or race. Hillsboro is due to vote on the issue March 7.
Sanctuary city declarations are symbolic moves, sparked by President Donald Trump's stated intention to increase deportations and crack down on the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally.
Monday's resolution declares support for undocumented immigrants without using the "sanctuary city" term, which would not have the power to legally change anything. Some supporters think the term would send a stronger, more comforting message. In the end, it may not matter what the council does (see accompanying story).
Councilor Timothy Rippe, who voted "no" on the previous resolution, introduced the new resolution Monday that states: "The city of Forest Grove recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, who should be treated with compassion and respect regardless of race, color, national origin, immigration or refugee status, religion, sex, gender identity (including gender expression), sexual orientation, mental, emotional and physical ability, veteran status or age."
The resolution also declares Forest Grove "a community that celebrates the wide diversity of its residents and visitors" and makes clear that all residents should not fear that local police and city employees will inquire about their immigration status.
Rippe said he hoped the resolution would "emphatically and without reservation" express Forest Grove's values. He modeled the resolution on a similar statement the city of McMinnville recently adopted and adapted it after meeting with members of local nonprofits Adelante Mujeres and Centro Cultural and a third group concerned about racial justice.
"I believe he was very sincere in wanting to learn more about the issue, and finding a way forward," Forest Grove resident Linda Taylor said of Rippe after meeting with him. "What I am heartened by is how much more inclusive the language is than in the original proclamation that used the term 'sanctuary.'"
Rippe said the meetings went well and were positive and respectful: "This was the kind of dialogue I was hoping would happen all along."
Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax said councilors who voted no on the Jan. 23 "sanctuary city" resolution received nasty comments on their personal Facebook pages and emails from those who wanted it to pass.
Rippe didn't comment on the feedback he received, saying only that "the last three weeks have not been the most pleasant in my life."
Notes from previous meetings in which councilors addressed the subject recorded that "Rippe stood firmly against inflammatory and bullying tactics, noting he would rather demonstrate affirmation of an inclusive and safe community with actions based on communications, compassion, respect, love and dignity for all, not secularized, politicized and polarizing labels."
Rippe said he thinks the "sanctuary city" term can be used to divide people, "just like labeling people as a Democrat or Republican puts you immediately into one camp and you can't even have a decent conversation with someone because you've already been labeled."
In a public comment before the meeting, Community member Charlotte Lumae praised Forest Grove police Chief Janie Schutz and Capt. Mike Herb for working hard to recruit an "ethical" police force that better represents community demographics. But she added that a "sizable number" of community members still harass people on the basis of race or immigration status and she asked what the city is doing to educate white people about civil rights and help stop the harassment.
Councilors Matt Vandehey and Tom Johnston both thanked Rippe for his work on the resolution and both expressed how important it is for the city to now move forward with action. "We need to show people these goals are important," said Vandehey, stressing the significance of education and outreach to minorities.
Councilor Elena Uhing also suggested an amendment to the resolution that would specifically include a sentence that says the city will strive to discourage harassment and discrimination. "I want to have very clear wording on this because it is happening," she said.
Both Councilor Malynda Wenzl and Truax expressed disappointment that the original sanctuary city resolution had failed but said they were excited to move forward.