An immigration forum held Tuesday evening at St. Joseph Parish in Yakima shared information about services available for undocumented residents in the Valley. Joseph Tyson, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, opened the evening by welcoming the crowd of about 200 who gathered in the church.
“We want to provide a caring environment to you, whether you are documented or undocumented, to give you a place of support,” Tyson said, speaking in Spanish.
Information was shared primarily in Spanish, though speakers also paraphrased what they said in English for a number of English-only speakers in the audience.
Panelists included David Morales of the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Michele Besso for the Yakima Immigrant Response Network, Sandra Aguilar of Catholic Charities Housing Services, Laura Contreras of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Yakima City Manager Cliff Moore, and Yakima Police Chief Matthew Murray. Facilitating the event were Tyson and Fr. Felipe Pulido, pastor of St. Joseph Parish.
Each panelist shared resources available to undocumented immigrants from their organizations — from legally representing asylum seekers and DACA recipients to help with housing — and encouraged residents to both know and exercise their rights.
“We support and want to defend our neighbors here in Yakima,” Besso said. “It’s important for people to know their rights and what to do if immigration (enforcement) comes to their door. You need to practice saying, ‘I am not going to sign anything,’ and ‘I am not going to answer any questions until I talk to an attorney.’”
Contreras pointed to several critical action steps for undocumented residents and their supporters.
“Figure out your status and if there’s a remedy,” she said. “Also know what to do if ICE contacts you, because you need to know how to react. And for those who are here from organizations, schools and churches, go with your clients to their court hearings, write letters of support. It does make a difference.”
Attendees could pick up free informational materials at the event, in either English or Spanish, including business-card sized sheets with what individuals should say in interactions with ICE to state their rights and reminders of how to react should ICE approach an individual at home. Listed rights included the right to remain silent and to be free from having homes entered or belongings searched by ICE officials unless the agency has a warrant signed by a judge or magistrate. Information available also encouraged individuals to take pictures, videos, and notes and to report any raids by calling the Rapid Response Hotline at 1-844-724-3737.
Moore, during his presentation, said that residents need to give some information, including their names and addresses, for city services, but he stressed that city officials and police officers will never question anyone about their immigration status during interactions. He then provided a brief update about flights operating out of the Yakima Air Terminal at McAllister field that are chartered by ICE but added that ICE presence at the airport should not increase ICE enforcement activities in the community.
“If you see ICE in vehicles or doing something bad, you need to call us,” he said. “Call City Hall or let me know.”
Murray echoed that sentiment, saying that the police department does not do immigration enforcement and that the department’s primary concern remains the safety of the city. Moore captured the underlying message of the six panelists when he referred to Yakima as Nuestra comunidad — “Our community.”
“Yakima is a community for all of us, whether you have documentation or not,” Moore said. “We do not care about where you came from or how you got here. What we care about is how you act when you’re here.”