Discussions about immigration are taking on sharper edges since Yakima became a regular stop for ICE flights.
City Council members Jason White and Dulce Gutierrez have sparred over the topic on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the flights are contributing to loss of trust in city leaders among immigrants, said Mary Lopez, who heads the local office of OneAmerica, a national immigrant advocacy group.
“Yakima is one of the cities across the state that has a high immigration population,” she said. “The question is why Yakima? And the message for the city of Yakima is they consider us a place for deportation.”
Latinos account for 49.9 percent of Yakima County’s 251,446 residents and 46.2 percent of the city’s 93,844 residents, according to the U.S. Census.
Lopez says the detainment of undocumented immigrants who have not been accused or convicted of crimes is inhumane, and seeing ICE flights dropping off and picking up shackled people is alarming.
“What I heard is that the people, they are not criminals,” Lopez said. “It is discrimination for them to be shackled. Human beings don’t deserve to be treated that way.”
Those in support of the ICE flights say stopping them would be unlawful.
“I do believe that our immigration system is incredibly flawed but any attempt to block the lCE flights is lawlessness,” White said.
He believes that the majority of those being brought through Yakima have committed a crime and should be removed.
John Tipton, a member of the Republican Party who also served as chairman of the county’s 2016 campaign for President Donald Trump, echoes White’s sentiment.
“I think that the last time I checked, the functions that are going on at the airport are legal functions of the United States and we are in the United States,” he said.
Tempers flared last weekend when White posted his views on Facebook.
A commenter agreeing with White asked him about citizens here with undocumented family. White responded by saying “Ask Carmen.”
White also pointed to the recently slain Kittitas County sheriff’s deputy Ryan Thompson, saying his death was at the hand of an undocumented immigrant.
Gutierrez took offense, believing White’s comment pointed to Councilwoman Carmen Mendez.
“I will not remain silent as Councilman Jason White spreads lies about the immigrant community,” she wrote in her post. “He is telling people an undocumented immigrant murdered the deputy in Kittitas County when in fact it was an H2A worker who did it. He is attempting to spread fear about undocumented immigrants.”
Gutierrez said she refrained from commenting on White’s posts at first.
“Then I saw he implicated Carmen and Carmen’s family and that just did it,” Gutierrez said. “That’s just not what anyone does if they’re truly in support of immigrant community.”
White said he wasn’t implying anything about Mendez’s family. He said the only comments on that post were from friends of Mendez, and he was simply directing the question back to her.
Mendez said she didn’t see the posts until days later, when someone sent her screenshots.
“I do think what Jason is saying is not representative of the district he represents,” Mendez said. White represents District 2. He was elected in 2017, defeating Pablo Gonzalez.
White doesn’t see his position undermining him politically.
“I’m not here to represent any extreme viewpoint,” he said. “I think most of the people in my district are law-abiding citizens and want me to abide by the laws.
“Just because people are Latinos doesn’t mean they support Latinos doing bad things.”
The ICE flights are only one part of a broader anti-immigrant sentiment that’s been reverberating across Yakima and the nation since President Donald Trump’s executive orders ramping up immigration enforcement, said the Rev. Joseph Tyson, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yakima.
He says it’s driving a “climate of uncertainty and fear” here in Yakima.
“I think the visual of having the flights come in and out of Yakima kind of connects to the information going through our community that there appears to more random detentions that are not related to criminal activity,” Tyson said.
Yakima and the surrounding county has long had a large Mexican immigrant population without the level of community divisions we are now seeing under Trump.
“We’re seeing federal policy working against the kind of local climate we need,” he said. “National policy is working against what we’re trying to achieve locally.”