Love Thy Neighbor?

Spokane's "Compassionate City" designation is being put to the test

Caleb Walsh illustration

Getting in cars with a stranger is the acceptable behavior of using ride-sharing. I'll often make small talk and ask, "So, how long have you been doing Lyft?" Recently, I got an answer I wasn't expecting: "Ever since I moved up from California to Coeur d'Alene, because it's whiter and the Mexicans were taking over."

I'm a white man. He must've felt like he had a comfortable audience, but I couldn't help but feel that he was emboldened by a president who gave a voice to a sentiment many voters like him believed, and some politicians quietly express: Immigration has destroyed America.

In his first 100 days, President "See You in Court" has yet to accomplish the immigration goals he outlined in his campaign. Those included the construction of an ineffective border wall, paid for by Mexico, while the revised travel ban to halt refugee settlements and the defunding of "sanctuary cities" remain held up in court. Still, Donald Trump has increased arrests of undocumented immigrants, detaining 22,000 from January to mid-March, a 38 percent jump over the same period in 2016. The arrest numbers of non-criminal immigrants have doubled.

This national fight impacts us locally, too. As part of an international charter, Spokane became a "Compassionate City" last year; that designation is about to be put to the test this November.

Citing public safety concerns, an anti-immigration group from Tacoma called Respect Washington has organized to gather enough signatures for a counterproductive ballot initiative. Proposition 1 would overturn a decade-old city policy that says no "Spokane City officer or employee shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person." In short: Initiative backers want to profile people based on their suspected citizenship status. What's on the books has worked, because it's made crime victims and witnesses more willing to talk to police.

There are an estimated 40,000 refugees in Spokane, but it is difficult to pinpoint the number of undocumented citizens locally. (The total population of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. has remained largely unchanged since 2009.) Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl says that we do not have any problems with undocumented immigrants, corroborating study after study showing that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes. In fact, immigration actually appears to be linked to reductions in some types of crimes, according to the news website ScienceDaily.

The proposed ballot initiative is opposed by Mayor David Condon, Greater Spokane Incorporated, and the Spokesman-Review editorial board. They know this isn't a good look for Spokane. But what do Councilmember Mike Fagan, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Spokane County Republican Chair Stephanie Cates all have in common? They signed the petition. That raises the question: What kind of community do they want to build?

They should listen to the experts. If not Chief Meidl, then Mark Napier. He's a Republican sheriff in Pima County, Arizona — which shares 125 miles with the Mexican border — who has said that this approach to dealing with immigration isn't feasible, or morally right. "I would ask my Republican brotherhood that decry [undocumented immigration], 'If your family were impoverished, if your family were endangered, if your family were in need, what would you not do to protect them?'" he told the New York Times. "I think it's kind of a medieval solution to a modern problem."

We need a continuation of DACA, the Obama administration's policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. We need fairness and due process. We need to end the retaliation against cities that protect immigrant rights. We need no bans, no walls. We need to understand why people relocate.

The Lyft driver did mention that he "missed the food back home," ignoring that he was taking bites at the hands that feed him. I let him know that what he said was wrong. It's a long, bumpy ride, where fear and reality have painfully distant borders, but standing up for our immigrant neighbors, instead of looking away, can help get us to a better place. Especially since the fear isn't real — unless you're an immigrant. ♦

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