Lucas Guttentag, Eleanor Hoague and Debbie Smith

Immigration group celebrates success

A coalition of islanders is one step closer to protecting the rights of local immigrants.

The Immigrant Rights Group of the Orcas Women’s Coalition celebrated the successful addition of Initiative 2017-07 to the November ballot with a gathering at the Emmanuel Episcopal Parish Hall on July 18.

The initiative was introduced to prevent San Juan County from collecting information to be given to the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection that can aid the agencies in deportation. It prohibits the county sheriff’s office from helping the above federal agencies deport members of the community.

According to a list of talking points on the Orcas Women’s Coalition website, the initiative does not interfere with arrests for the commission of federal or state crimes. Instead, it prevents the San Juan County Sheriff and deputies from being tied up in federal civil matters that the federal government is responsible for handling.

In two executive orders signed by President Donald Trump earlier this year, he called for local law enforcement to assist in finding and deporting undocumented immigrants. Several states, cities and counties across the country refused to follow that executive order, these places are referred to as “sanctuary cities.” This initiative is meant to provide some legal reassurance to the immigrants in the community that the San Juan County Sheriff and deputies will not be actively pursuing them based on their immigration status.

The group needed to get more than 1,635 signatures from San Juan County registered voters by June 30 for the initiative to be voted on during the next election. They collected 2,382 valid signatures before submission. According to Eleanor Hoague, a principal drafter of the initiative, Waldron and Shaw islands gathered a lot of signers, considering their respective sizes.

“The Shaw people, I think, dug up a few graves,” Hoague said jokingly. “I think we ought to be very proud; we got almost a quarter of the people who voted in the last election… It’s really, really neat to see people come together like that.”

Two prominent figures in the immigration law world, who just happened to be on the island visiting a friend, swung by the celebration to applaud the signers and signature gatherers.

“You’re an example of standing up to the Trump administration,” said Debbie Smith, an immigration lawyer who received honors from the National Immigration Project National Lawyers Guild at the American Immigration Lawyers Association convention in 2016.

“This statement is so incredibly important,” said Lucas Guttentag, a Yale and Stanford professor of law who was senior advisor to the director of U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services under former President Barack Obama in 2014. “The resistance, the opposition, the energy, the commitment is incredible … It’s part of, in my view, a much bigger struggle about really who we are as a country and where we’re going.”