Portland Will Train City Workers on How to Respond to Federal Immigration Agents

The City Council resolution declares Portland "a welcoming city, a sanctuary city, and an inclusive city to all."

(Garbriel Green)

Portland City Hall is poised to a pass a resolution on Wednesday that would declare Portland not just a sanctuary city, but also "a welcoming city" and "an inclusive city to all."

Besides serving the symbolic purpose of reiterating the city's refusal to aid federal immigration enforcement, the resolution also has at least one concrete action attached.

It requires the city's Human Resources Bureau along with the Office of Equity and Human Rights and the City Attorney's Office to develop, within 90 days, a plan for training city workers on how to "respond" to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

"Bureau staff and attendees often ask if [city-produced] events are safe for those who are undocumented," says Mayor Wheeler's spokesman Michael Cox.

"Everyone involved should have clear facts about how ICE operates in our city and what they should do if they interact with ICE," Cox adds. "The members of City Council in cooperation with immigrant communities have a collective desire to affirm that Portland is a safe, welcoming and inclusive city for all people."

Before taking office, Wheeler pledged to keep the city a sanctuary even in the face of threats from President Donald Trump to strip cities that are sanctuaries of federal funding. It's unclear at this point how the Republican administration will carry out those threats.

Being a sanctuary city, in a technical sense, generally means cities are unwilling to hold people in jail for any extra amount so that ICE can arrest them—which, in Portland, is mainly the responsibility of the county sheriff. The county commissioners and Governor Kate Brown have issued similar resolutions. The state law prohibits the use of funds for immigration enforcement, and enforcing the rule would also defy a 2014 U.S. District Court case.

But the symbolism of the resolution was the subject of debate at City Hall.

In a move that's nearly a parody of liberal Portland, city commissioners wrangled over the language of the resolution, eventually compromising by using three different suggestions for adjectives: sanctuary, inclusive and welcoming.

The three overlapping descriptions partly reflect the nature of Portland city government: with five equal votes the commissioners have equal say, particularly when they're looking to pass something unanimously. All five have signed onto the bill.

The offices of Mayor Ted Wheeler, City Commissioners Nick Fish and Chloe Eudaly all said they favored "sanctuary."

"We fought hard to get sanctuary in there," says Sonia Schmanski, Fish's chief of staff. "It means something specific, speaks directly to the executive orders, and was the impetus for this whole thing."

Cox says that Commissioner Amanda Fritz favored the term "welcoming" while immigrants rights advocates wanted "inclusive." Neither Commissioner Amanda Fritz nor Dan Saltzman's office responded to inquiries.

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