Immigrant Rights Group protects local immigrants

The Immigrant Rights Group of the Orcas Women’s Coalition launched Initiative 2017-07 on June 12, a San Juan County (SJC) ballot measure that strengthens protections for immigrants in SJC.

“This Initiative emanates from the Executive Order of Governor Jay Inslee and the guidance of two prominent Attorneys General, Eric Schneiderman of New York, and Bob Ferguson of Washington‚” explained Eleanor Hoague a principal drafter of the initiative. “We aim to protect and preserve the rights of all people, including immigrants.”

Attorney General Ferguson has encouraged counties to get involved in supporting our neighbors and to refuse to be conscripted into the efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to deprive residents of their civil rights and liberties.

Amanda Tarkington, who chairs the Immigrant Rights Group, said, “This Initiative allows everyone to be treated fairly by San Juan County government agencies, including law enforcement, regardless of race, immigration status, nationality, or ability to speak, read, write, or understand English. Currently, well-intentioned San Juan County law enforcement staff can ask people they suspect of being from other countries for information about their immigration status. Most of our current county officials promise that they will not pry into immigration matters, but we need an ordinance that will make that protection permanent, no matter who our elected officials are.”

“This Initiative protects our neighbors by preventing San Juan County from collecting information that can be given to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and that can aid these agencies in deporting efforts,” noted Anneke Fleming, a high school senior who first initiated actions to protect immigrants last winter.

“Plus,” she added, “we are protecting San Juan County from lawsuits and charges of racial profiling.”

One component of the Initiative requires DHS, including CBP and ICE, to obtain a Judicial warrant based on probable cause to take custody of a person being held by SJC.

“This Initiative does not oppose arrests for the commission of federal or state crimes. Rather, it prevents our officers, who are people with good hearts and minds and who keep our island communities safe, from getting caught up in Federal civil matters that are issues for the Federal government, not the county government,” Hoague pointed out. “We don’t have county employees collecting federal taxes or stopping postal fraud.”

Another aspect of the ordinance prohibits the SJC Sheriff and deputies from helping ICE and CBP to deport members of SJC Community. It requires SJC employees to work for SJC exclusively, and not for DHS.

“This Initiative will reduce fear among immigrants who do not understand the difference between County, State, and Federal authorities and legal systems. If an undocumented woman is violently attacked, her first thought will not be to call the police. Her first thoughts are more likely to be ‘What will happen if the police find I am undocumented?’ A victim should feel equally secure in reporting a crime, whether or not she is documented,” Tarkington said. “SJC protects all crime victims, whether they are residents of the county or not, and therefore should protect people regardless of their immigration status. This Initiative furthers the health and safety our community so that anyone can report a crime without fear and everyone is ruled by the same governing principles and laws.”

Hoague, who is organizing the signature drive, said Initiative 2017-07 requires 1,635 signatures from SJC voters by June 30 to be placed on the November ballot.