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2017 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference

Speakers say that Spokane seeks to be a compassionate and welcoming city

Austriauna Brooks, intern from Whitworth University

The Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, held at St. Mark’s Lutheran on Jan. 28, brought together about 120 people to discuss how they can improve lives of persecuted, discriminated against and oppressed individuals.

The idea of this year’s theme of “Taking Responsibility: Acting Together” stems from how to lead and act in faith in today’s political climate. One workshop reflected on “Immigration Initiatives.”

• John Lemus, chair of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, said that according to a decade-old city ordinance, no police officer can question anyone about his or her immigration status.

Author, small business owner and member of No Discrimination Spokane Kris Dinnison dove into what citizens can do to help undocumented immigrants stay safe in Spokane.

• Kris said that Initiative No. 2015-1, which has been proposed in Spokane, would establish police obligation to ask immigration status without removing opposition to targeting people based on racial bias. However, police could target people of color, people with accents, as well as people who wear religious apparel to ask about their immigration status.

“We want Spokane to be a compassionate, safe city.  This initiative does not support that,” she said.

• Calling Spokane a compassionate and safe city is more correct than calling it a sanctuary city, according to City Council Member Breean Beggs.

Breean Beggs, Civil Rights lawyer and Spokane City Council Member

While there is no strict definition of a sanctuary city, Breean, a civil rights lawyer, said a sanctuary city is one that declares itself to be a sanctuary city and acts to protect those who are in danger because of their immigration status.

The U.S. government may redefine what a sanctuary city is now that the President has issued an executive order related to Muslims and other immigrants.

Breean said Spokane does not have a status to protect immigrants with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) warrant.

• Statistics cannot be understood unless there are stories behind them, said Mabel Elsom, the anti-human trafficking coordinator at Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Spokane.

She is an immigrant, having come from El Salvador. She shares her story about sacrifices her family made and risks she took to come to the United States.

Mabel explains how lucky she is to have been able to leave her country because her uncle was high in the military and her mother lived in the United States already.

Mabel Elsom

She was able to come to the United States, go to school, get a job and call 911 if she was in danger.

The people with whom Mabel works, however, think that if they call law enforcement for help, they will go to jail or face deportation.

“The message we send is that there is justice and help for women who are assaulted or abused but not for immigrants who are victims of assault or abuse,” she said. “Too often the system sides with the perpetrator and does not listen to the victim. Every victim has the right to get help.”

The clients Mabel works with come from dangerous situations and often try to hide from their perpetrators. Because perpetrators know the trafficked person is an immigrant, they may abuse the person by holding her visa and threatening deportation. Traffickers use that leverage to make the immigrants do what they want them to do.

• The workshop speakers urged people of faith to find ways to work with local organizations to assure safety for undocumented immigrants. This action cannot come from a single person but it takes an entire community to come together to promote positive change, Mabel said.

“Alone, we might feel like a drop in the ocean,” she said, “but that ocean wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for our individual efforts.”

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