Hillsboro publicly declared itself a sanctuary city last night as Mayor Steve Callaway cast a dramatic tie-breaking vote. The vote followed over three hours of public comment, and was the nail-biting conclusion to months of activism and debate in Oregon’s fifth-largest city.

Councillors Kyle Allen, Anthony Martin, and Olivia Alcaire all backed the declaration; Darell Lumaco, Rick Van Beveren, and Fred Nachtigal all voted against. The mayor, who only votes in the event of a tie, voted for the measure, making Hillsboro the latest Oregon city to publicly declare itself a sanctuary city.

Oregon law already prevents local and state law officials from enforcing federal immigration laws, meaning the vote was largely symbolic. Officials arguing for the measure stressed exactly this symbolism.

“It’s important to understand that words do matter,” said Callaway. “There many citizens out there who are afraid to talk to the police department.”

Councillor Ken Allen made the same argument, saying “we will live in a safer city if people feel comfortable calling law enforcement.”

Councillors arguing against the measure uniformly stated they were sympathetic to immigrants’ situation, but argued that the measure provided no tangible benefits while potentially putting the city at risk.

Nachtigal stated the declaration could give people a “false sense of security,” and might make Hillsboro a target for Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Donald Trump.

Every single councillor stated they’ve lost sleep thinking about the issue.

“I don’t believe we’ve ever concerned ourselves with Federal matters,” said Nachtigal. “I hope we never do again.”

Measure implements no policy changes

Oregon law forbids state and local police officers from enforcing immigration matter, leaving that to Federal officials. This means Hillsboro’s declaration is largely a symbolic one, affirming a commitment to following state law without changing any city policy.

The declaration stated that Hillsboro is “committed to providing a safe community for all individuals.” Here’s the text in full:

Three Hours of Public Discussion

The narrow vote concluded nearly three hours of public discussion, during which Hillsboro and Oregon residents expressed a range of opinions on the issue.

Numerous immigrants, documented and undocumented, told council the declaration would stop their community from having to live in fear. They were backed by eight clergy from various Christian denominations—all citing scripture in support of the resolution—and numerous teachers, healthcare providers, and union members who also supported the resolution.

The overwhelming majority of speakers supported the measure, though there was opposition, many of which came from longtime Hillsboro residents.¬†Here’s a few quotes from the public comments, representing the wide range of voices heard:

  • “People need to enter the right way. I understand the arguments that no one should live in fear, I agree, but if a person commits a crime they will live in fear.”
  • “We must seek justice, and offer assistance, regardless of which group to which they belong.”
  • “I’m against…for one main reason: Hillsboro would put themselves on the map for the federal government to come in and do things that the state already does.”
  • “I’m here tonight to speak for my friends and neighbors who are too terrified to come to city hall, who are afraid to open their doors, who are not going to the grocery, the bank, and whose children are being bullied at schools and being told to go back to Mexico.”
  • “One thing I haven’t heard…is how many people come to this country legally. That’s all we’re asking. We’re not asking for people to be scared. Everybody is afraid that they’re going to get a ticket or something, but that’s just life.
  • “The last few weeks have been terrible for our community. On Sunday I was preparing to provide the service, and 20 minutes before the service I was called by a woman. This lady was crying. Her daughter was detained in Hillsboro.” -Reverend Jorge Rodriguez, Hillsboro United Methodist Church
  • “Federal law supersedes anything this state has to offer. It’s nice to hear the indoctrination of the young people in our crowd. That was an intentional thing by our former president. I’ve also heard from the preachers here, and that’s why I stopped going to church.”
  • “It is more important to talk to you about the fact that minority groups don’t know how to play a white politician’s game. Touch your heart. Touch your brain. Have compassion.”
  • “Over sixty percent of my students are immigrants, or their parennts are immigrants. They come to me at aschool, and they’re afraid when they get home their parents won’t be there.”
  • “It does not make sense to me, to take all of this stuff, to say you’re a racist. You’re a hater. It’s about what is right, what makes sense.”
  • “When the Puritans pulled up here in the Mayflower, where were their visas?”
  • “I’ve dealt with ICE firsthand, and it’s nothing that I would wish on anyone. My experience with ICE has taught me that laws are not always correct.”

They call use dreamers, but what they don’t know is that we’re the ones who never sleep.

The public hearing also included a letter from Metro president and former Hillsboro mayor Tom Hughes.

“Hillsboro should designate itself as a sanctuary city. Your police force reports to you,” said Hughes. “Don’t let them be caught between conflicting federal laws and state laws.”

Further reading: