The Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution Tuesday declaring Thurston County a “welcoming community to residents regardless of their immigration status.”
It joins a number of communities around the country, including the city of Olympia, which have vowed to serve as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, in response to fears that President-elect Donald Trump will keep his campaign pledge of mass deportations and a crackdown on immigration.
Thurston County’s resolution doesn’t include the word “sanctuary.” However, it states that Thurston County will serve and protect its residents regardless of their immigration status, and that in the county, “all people, including immigrants, are respected and valued and are vital to our shared prosperity.”
The resolution also refers to an immigration-related ordinance that was approved 2-0 by the Thurston County Commission on Nov. 29.
That ordinance formalized a policy in which the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and jail will no longer hold people based solely on a detention request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The new policy states that the county will honor civil immigration hold requests only for people who have been convicted of a violent or serious crime.
It’s an ordinance designed to save taxpayer dollars, increase civil liberties protections and keep families together, officials say.
Commissioner Bud Blake and Cathy Wolfe voted in favor of the ICE ordinance.
“I absolutely believe people should not live in fear, and that’s why I fully support this,” Blake said at the meeting.
“This is just the right thing to do,” Wolfe said.
Commissioner Sandra Romero was absent from the meeting but also supported the ICE ordinance, said interim county manager Ramiro Chavez.
The Sheriff’s Office stopped holding people solely on ICE requests in April 2014, after a U.S. District Court ruling that ICE detainers were requests and not legally mandated.
However, since department policies can change, the Board of County Commissioners felt it was important to solidify that policy with a formal ordinance, Wolfe told The Olympian.
“In my feeling, it gives it more permanency and more strength,” she said.
During a public hearing, several people urged the board to adopt the ordinance, saying it would help build trust between the immigrant community and law enforcement. No one spoke against the proposal.
Anita Ahumada of Olympia talked about a Mason County woman who was detained for a DUI. She had five children.
“The children were placed in foster care, and she was getting herself better, rehabilitated,” testified Ahumada, who also is Thurston County’s representative on the state Commission of Hispanic Affairs.
The woman got out of jail, but later drove with a suspended license. She was pulled over, reported to ICE, and deported a few days later, Ahumada said. The woman’s children had to be put up for adoption.
“I really feel that this ordinance is right on target,” Ahumada told the commissioners. “…You will be saving a lot of families a lot of heartaches, and a lot of, you know, destinies.”
In a later interview with The Olympian, Ahumada said she believes the ordinance is “an early Christmas present” for many local families who have been worried about the impact of ICE holds.
“My opinion is that all the counties in the state of Washington should do the same,” she said. “Not only would they be saving their own budgets, but they would not be tearing families apart. They would not destroy lives.”
Wolfe broke into tears as she talked about the ordinance at the November meeting and later as she recalled Ahumada’s story of the mom who lost her five children. The soon-to-be retired commissioner described the ordinance as one of the most important things the Board of County Commissioners could do.
“To me, this just means that families can be kept together and not torn apart by these unfair holds,” Wolfe said.