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Toppenish school levy now appears to be passing
 Janelle Retka  / 

A $10 million capital improvement levy that would fund new classrooms and a gym at Toppenish High School appears to be passing after more ballots were counted.

Early election returns showed the measure failing, with 47.3% voting in favor in the initial count on election night, or 271 to 302. The levy requires a simple majority of 50% plus one vote to pass.

Before the weekend, the levy gained more support, and on Tuesday an updated preliminary vote showed 52.2% approval of the measure, or 717 to 657.

“The news is really, really good, as far as we’re concerned,” said Superintendent John Cerna. “It sounds really, really promising.”

Cerna said that of the estimated 1,000 votes left to count countywide, he expects just 20 to 30 to be within Toppenish School District lines, making it likely that the levy has safely passed.

If approved, the new levy would raise property taxes within district boundaries, adding $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed value, or $250 annually for a home valued at $100,000 or $500 annually for a home valued at $200,000.

The six-year levy would be matched with $6 million in funds approved by the state in April. The entire project would cost $16 million.

The tax would cover renovations at the high school that would span 35,000 square feet, adding four classrooms, a commons area, locker rooms, a school store for concessions or merchandise, and a 3,000-seat gymnasium with three basketball courts.

The existing gym seats about 800.

Cerna said both the classrooms and new gym are necessary.

The gym was originally built in 1972 to house 500 students before renovations in 2004 increased the gym capacity slightly to 800. Now, the high school has about 950 students.

“It’s needed for our kids,” he said. “That’s what’s most important.”

The election will be certified on Nov. 26.

Macias takes 11-vote lead in Yakima City Council race
 Donald Meyers  / 

Yakima City Council candidate Eliana Macias is now leading Kenton Gartrell by 11 votes, according to the Yakima County elections office.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the vote count was 354 for Macias and 343 for Gartrell, or 50.7% to 49.1%, for the District 1 seat.

“I didn’t think the gap was going to close this much,” Macias said on Tuesday.

On Friday, Macias was four votes behind Gartrell. In initial results on election night, Macias was behind by 71 votes.

Gartrell is waiting to see the final vote tally.

“We’ll see what those numbers are, and maybe life can go back to normal,” Gartrell said.

He described the election as a tough race, saying Macias had outspent him 5 to 1, but said he “gave her a run for her 5-to-1 money.”

If elected, Macias would be the sole Latina on the council. A Voting Rights Act lawsuit in 2015 required the city to change its election districts to better represent the city’s Latino population.

Yakima County Auditor Charles Ross said there are 18 votes left to count in the race, with 17 of them considered “challenged” because of signatures not matching up with voter registration records, or ballots that were not signed by voters.

At this point, Ross said the margin between Macias and Gartrell is not enough to trigger an automatic recount.

Under state law, a recount using electronic scanners is mandatory if the margin between the candidates is less than 2,000 votes and less than a half-percent. A manual recount, where workers inspect the ballots, is triggered when the margin is less than 150 votes and less than a quarter of a percent.

When Macias and Gartrell were separated by four votes, the percentage was 0.66%.

The outcome of other Yakima council races was unchanged with Patricia Byers leading in District 3, Soneya Lund in District 5 and incumbent Holly Cousens in District 7.

The election will be certified on Nov. 26. The District 1 seat is now held by Dulce Gutierrez, who did not run for reelection.

Yakima Valley's DACA recipients quietly await high court's decision
 Phil Ferolito  / 

While attorneys argued the fate of DACA in the nation’s highest court Tuesday, supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals remained mostly quiet across the Yakima Valley.

They’re quietly waiting and hoping for a positive outcome from U.S. Supreme Court justices, said local Latino advocate Elizabeth Torrez.

“It’s too close to everyone’s heart — there’s too many young people who depend on this decision,” said Torres, research coordinator for El Proyecto Bienestar (the well-being project). “It’s just a topic that everyone who lives in the Valley knows somebody, has a family member or has ties to it.”

DACA recipients — commonly referred to as Dreamers — are keeping their thoughts, and status, to themselves until a decision is rendered, said Mary Lopez of OneAmerica in Yakima.

“What I see, Dreamers, they don’t want to speak up,” she said. “They are feeling they don’t want to exploit themselves.”

Display of support

Not everyone refrained from displaying support for DACA Tuesday.

Community members and Central Washington University students belonging to the group Central Washington Justice for our Neighbors held a Tuesday evening vigil at the Kittitas County Courthouse in Ellensburg in support of DACA recipients.

The group is planning another vigil for immigrant rights at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night at the courthouse.

They’re calling on state lawmakers to make several fixes to immigration law and services here.

“There are specific demands that we have,” said Abigail Scholar, the group’s executive director. Those include state support of DACA renewal, a relief fund for DACA recipients and a pro-immigration legislative platform, she said.

Demands also include urging the state departments of commerce and labor to support initiatives for DACA employment solutions, and for state intervention to protect DACA youth held at Cowlitz County’s juvenile center.

Community fabric

The average DACA recipient has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. Nationwide, Dreamers and their families have contributed $8.8 billion in tax revenue, according to a 2019 report by the Center for Progress.

Here in the Valley, those protected by DACA hold jobs, attend colleges and universities, and have started families of their own.

There are about 800,000 people protected by DACA nationwide. Of them, 17,843 live in Washington state. While there’s no firm number of how many DACA recipients live in Yakima County, it’s estimated that about 6,000 people are eligible for the program, according to the Migrant Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank.

Immigrants have long been a part of the Yakima Valley and have integrated with the rest of the community, said Bishop Joseph Tyson of the Catholic Diocese.

He hopes the national controversy over DACA and immigration doesn’t fray the woven tapestry of immigrants and non-immigrants here.

“Obviously there are tensions everywhere,” he said. “But we also have lived a tapestry of English and Spanish. The Mexican heritage has been woven into the Yakima Valley since the Braceros of World War II.”

The Braceros were part of a WWII farm labor program.


Bishop Tyson said he hopes the controversy doesn’t unravel the decades of community integration in the Yakima Valley, and blames federal lawmakers for not providing a solution.

“I’m hoping the bitterness around the immigration debate doesn’t overshadow the great positives that we have enjoyed in the Yakima Valley for generations,” he said. “What we’ve built socially, economically and religiously is being placed under enormous stress because folks six hours away by jet can’t figure this out.”

Several local Dreamers who participated in interviews when President Donald Trump first announced his decision to scrap DACA more than two years ago didn’t return phone calls and emails seeking comment for this story.

Many are afraid, Torres said.

“Fear and uncertainty, that’s the issue,” she said. “It’s such a delicate topic, especially if you’re a recipient of DACA. With everything that immigration is doing, that ICE is doing using social media to find our community members, people are afraid because you are not protected anymore.

“This is a decision that’s affecting people’s personal lives — of course they’re going to be afraid to talk about the issue.”

Split Supreme Court appears ready to allow Trump to end DACA

WASHINGTON — Sharply at odds with liberal justices, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority seemed ready Tuesday to allow the Trump administration to abolish protections that permit 660,000 immigrants to work in the U.S., free from the threat of deportation.

That outcome would “destroy lives,” declared Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one the court’s liberals who repeatedly suggested the administration has not adequately justified its decision to end the 7-year-old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Nor has it taken sufficient account of the personal, economic and social disruption that might result, they said.

But there did not appear to be any support among the five conservatives for blocking the administration. The nine-member court’s decision is expected by June, at the height of the 2020 presidential campaign.

President Donald Trump said on Twitter that DACA recipients shouldn’t despair if the justices side with him, pledging that “a deal will be made with the Dems for them to stay!” But Trump’s past promises to work with Democrats on a legislative solution for these immigrants have led nowhere.

The president also said in his tweet that many program participants, brought to the U.S. as children and now here illegally, are “far from ‘angels,’” and he claimed that “some are very tough, hardened criminals.” The program bars anyone with a felony conviction from participating, and serious misdemeanors may also bar eligibility.

Some DACA recipients, commonly known as “Dreamers,” were in the courtroom for the arguments, and many people camped out in front of the court for days for a chance at some of the few seats available. The term comes from never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act.

The high court arguments did not involve any discussion of individual DACA recipients or Trump’s claims.

Instead the focus was on whether either of two administration rationales for ending DACA, begun under President Barack Obama, was enough.

Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was a key part of his presidential campaign in 2016, and his administration has pointed to a court ruling striking down the expansion of DACA and creation of similar protections, known as DAPA, for undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens as reasons to bring the program to a halt.

After lower courts stepped in to keep the program alive, the administration produced a new explanation memo from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh were among the justices who indicated on Tuesday that the administration has provided sufficient reason for doing away with the program. Kavanaugh referred to Nielsen’s memo at one point as “a very considered decision.” Roberts suggested that worries that DACA is not legal might be enough to support ending it.

Roberts, who could hold the pivotal vote on the court, aimed his few questions at lawyers representing DACA recipients and their supporters. He did not seriously question the administration’s argument.

However, justices’ questions don’t always foretell their votes. In June the chief justice surprised many when he cast the deciding vote to prevent the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, despite not voicing much skepticism during arguments in the case.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito raised questions on Tuesday about whether courts should even be reviewing the executive branch’s discretionary decisions.

Sotomayor made the only direct reference to Trump, saying he told DACA recipients “that they were safe under him and that he would find a way to keep them here. And so he hasn’t.”

She also complained that the administration’s rationale has shifted over time and has mainly relied on the view that DACA is illegal, leaving no choice but to end it.

In her most barbed comment, Sotomayor said the administration has failed to plainly say “that this is not about the law. This is about our choice to destroy lives.”

Solicitor General Noel Francisco, representing the administration, did not directly respond to Sotomayor. But near the end of the 80-minute arguments, he asserted that the administration has taken responsibility for its decision and is relying on more than merely its belief that DACA is illegal. The administration has the authority to end DACA, even if it’s legal, because it’s bad policy, he said. “We own this,” Francisco said.

If the court agrees with the administration in the DACA case, Congress could follow up by voting to put the program on surer legal footing. But the absence of comprehensive immigration reform by Congress is what prompted Obama to create DACA in the first place, in 2012, giving people two-year renewable reprieves from the threat of deportation while also allowing them to work.

Young immigrants, civil rights groups, universities and Democratic-led cities and states sued to block the administration. They persuaded courts in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., that the administration had been “arbitrary and capricious” in its actions, in violation of a federal law that requires policy changes to be done in an orderly way.

If the justices sustain the challenges, the administration could try again to end the program. A lawsuit in Texas claiming that DACA is illegal also would be likely to go forward.