We have lived in Auburn for several years. Our children attend school here, we both work in the area and we are part of this community. Auburn is our home. This is why we fight to create a safer city for all residents.
After the election, we, along with many of our neighbors became fearful about what action the federal government might take against our community. As immigrants, communities of color, Muslims and the LGBTQ community, we came together to fight for an ordinance on the local level that would protect all of Auburn’s residents.
Over the past several months, we met with Auburn City Council members to talk about the fear in the community and the actions they can take to stand with us. Teachers told stories of the fear their students felt not knowing if their parents made it home safely. Pastors shared stories of parishioners locked away in the detention center. Our neighbors said that they do not call the police out of fear even when they themselves are the victims. The City Council heard all of these stories. We collected more than 400 postcards from Auburn residents to demonstrate the strong support for the ordinance that exists in our community.
Last Monday, the City of Auburn had the opportunity to advance racial, gender and economic justice in our community by passing an inclusive city ordinance, which would prohibit city personnel from inquiring about immigration status for the sole purpose of determining if a person is undocumented. Community members spoke for more than two hours during public comment about how important an ordinance would be for Auburn. Instead of fully following the desires of the community – and after only ten minutes of deliberation – the council passed a resolution.
This made the results of the May 15 decision not only disappointing, but also hurtful. Earlier in this meeting, the council declared May 22 as “Never Again Executive Order 9066” to remember the injustice experienced by the Japanese American community during World War II. And yet, they failed to see the link between this promise and the action that they failed to take this night.
In the moments before voting on the resolution and then the ordinance, City Attorney Dan Heid and Mayor Nancy Backus discussed their reasons for supporting the resolution. This conversation seemed constructed and planned. What Heid and Backus did not mention is that they circulated the resolution out of public view during the week and made immense changes before the meeting in order to gain the support of the swing vote.
While a resolution is an important step in this fight as it represents a statement of the City’s intent, it is not nearly as strong as an ordinance. Even if it allows Mayor Backus to make administrative changes which would create worker policies for city employees, these changes may not be permanent. The mayor could undo these changes without any input from council and without notifying the community. While we certainly think Mayor Backus has the right intentions, she may not be immune to the pressure of a presidential administration. One cannot truly feel safe in that safety is not guaranteed.
We urge the mayor of Auburn to first put in place administrative changes that reflect the promise of the resolution passed on May 15 and then to find a way to make these changes permanent by passing an ordinance. Make our communities safe now, then make it permanent. We want a policy that withstands threats made on the federal level and to know that the City of Auburn stands behind its community through thick and thin. We do not have time to wait.
Ariana Vallejo and Tina Velazquez are members of Washington Community Action Network, a statewide organization with 44,000 members fighting for racial, social, economic, and gender justice. They live in Auburn.