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Say 'No' to Fear 

Why Spokane ought to embrace its roots as an immigrant-friendly place

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My family loves to tell a story about how my Scotch-Irish great-grandfather was abducted by the English navy and shipped off to Canada. After besting the captain in a sword fight, he was ordered into the brig for execution the next morning. His captors were so impressed with his bravura that they allowed him to jump ship and swim across the St. Lawrence River into the United States of America, where he hitched a train out west and homesteaded in Montana. With the notable exception of Native peoples, we are all immigrants here.

The American Dream of working hard to provide a better life for the next generation is the engine that keeps this country moving. Immigrant labor and ingenuity is at the heart of what makes America great. Our history is dishonored and our future jeopardized when narrow-minded people drum up false fears about immigrants in our city. This spring, a small group of alarmists will attempt to gather signatures for an "anti-sanctuary" initiative that would add immigration status inquiries into local law enforcement. If you are approached to lend your name to this shortsighted initiative, decline to sign and say "no" to fear.

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The National Immigration Forum confirms that most police departments steer clear of entanglement in immigration enforcement because they know it would reduce reporting of violence and property crimes, thus harming the safety of the public overall. Immigration status is a complicated legal issue, and it should not be put upon busy officers to try and ascertain, exposing the city to liability for false imprisonment and racial profiling.      

Some exclaim that they're only against those without documents. But how can anyone defend a fixation on such a technicality when our federal immigration system is so broken and hypocritical? Why would we want to tear families apart and marginalize hardworking people on a daily basis?

With the national immigration rate slowing in response to the Wall Street collapse of 2008, many American cities are now competing to attract immigrants and the economic benefits that come with them. Not only are immigrants 30 percent more likely to start businesses of their own, according to the Brookings Institution, but they have been shown to have a positive impact on wages, increasing American's purchasing power in key sectors and helping to revitalize blighted neighborhoods.

Racist hysteria has spread the assumption that immigrants are a drain on tax dollars, when in fact the opposite is true. A Congressional Budget Office estimate shows a $25 billion gain in federal revenues if a pathway to citizenship were available to the 11 million undocumented people who live in our communities today. It is time for everyone in Spokane to embrace a more cosmopolitan worldview and refuse the last, gasping efforts of a dated minority who would force hostility over hope. ♦

Mariah McKay is a fourth-generation daughter of Spokane and a community organizer campaigning for racial, social and economic justice. She has worked in biotech and government and currently serves as a public health advocate.

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