Francisco Lara/Catholic Sentinel
Andrea Valderrama, senior policy adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler, speaks to the crowd gathered before the Portland City Council’s sanctuary vote March 22. 

Francisco Lara/Catholic Sentinel

Andrea Valderrama, senior policy adviser to Mayor Ted Wheeler, speaks to the crowd gathered before the Portland City Council’s sanctuary vote March 22. 

A small crowd gathered outside Portland City Hall March 22. The Portland City Council was hearing public testimony on the proposal to reaffirm the city’s sanctuary city designation. It was a different scene than the one that drew hundreds of demonstrators in February to the Hillsboro City Council, which was considering the same move.

Still, the council heard presentations from local organizations and activists, including John Herrera from Catholic Charities of Oregon. Herrera directs the immigration legal services department for the organization.

In his statement to the council, Hererra said the resolution would preserve “local resources for local priorities” instead of volunteering local resources for immigration enforcement.

“We have experienced a huge increase in clients contacting us for services,” he said.

“We are now receiving over 50 calls per day requesting an initial consultation to address their immigration issues, which is much greater than we have capacity to serve. Families are afraid to be separated.”

After hearing each of the presentations, the council voted to reaffirm Portland’s designation as a sanctuary city.

The state of Oregon is already designated a sanctuary state, meaning that no law enforcement agency in the state is allowed to use money, personnel or equipment to find or arrest individuals whose only crime is violation of federal immigration laws. 

City council members in Hillsboro voted March 7 to take on sanctuary status. The resolution doesn’t affect the practices of the city nor does it provide additional protection for undocumented workers. It’s symbolic.

The Hillsboro council voted 4-3 to approve the resolution. Mayor Steve Callaway cast the deciding vote.

“Even though it’s a symbolic vote, it shows that as a community, our values are that we value all people, that everybody is important, that everybody has a role to play in Hillsboro, regardless of where you’re from or where you were born,” says Callaway.

The Hillsboro mayor also said that the council had been given assurances by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that the agency would avoid arresting people in sensitive areas like schools, churches, hospitals and medical clinics.

“Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances,” Virginia Kice, Western regional spokesperson for the immigration agency, wrote in an email.

Callaway says that one of the Latino leaders in Hillsboro explained how important symbolism is to the Hispanic community and the Catholic Church.

Despite the close vote, Callaway says that the entire council was voting with good intentions for the community.

“Every vote was cast in terms of what’s right for our community and what’s best for our people,” he says.

Councilor Rick Van Beveren, a graduate of Jesuit High and the University of Notre Dame, cast just such a vote against the resolution.

He thought the city council was not the right venue to debate federal immigration laws and reform and also thought that the designation could draw unwanted attention from the federal government.

“A lot of us felt that we were putting those people more at risk because [President] Donald Trump had promised to punish sanctuary cities,” says Van Beveren, who feared the withdrawal of federal funding or the targeting of community members by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“In general, I would say that the entire council was probably trying to support our Latino community.” 

Some thought the symbolic vote was not in the city’s best interest and others thought it would provide a level of comfort and support, he adds.

Van Beveren says he understands the concerns of those who fear deportation.

“There isn’t a councilor on our City Council who wasn’t sympathetic to their concerns and their fear.”

The Hillsboro resolution defines “Sanctuary City” as: “A city that is committed to providing a safe community for all individuals, regardless of ethnicity or immigration status, and ensures that all members of our community are safe and can call upon public safety assistance whenever necessary, without being questioned about federal immigration laws and without fear of reprisal based solely on legal status, in accordance with Oregon State law.”

The vote comes nearly a month after hundreds of demonstrators appeared for a city council meeting in February urging support for the city to adopt the designation. Seventy-eight people testified on the resolution.