U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chartered flights at McAllister Field in Yakima continue to be a topic of debate, and questions have filtered over to Yakima City Council candidates.
ICE moved flights from Seattle to Yakima after King County issued an executive order in April saying it would not support ICE operations. From May 7 through July 2, about 600 undocumented individuals arrived on flights to Yakima and were bused to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. An additional 650 individuals were bused from Tacoma and flown from Yakima to other sites.
At a July 16 council meeting, the Yakima City Council voted 4-3 against directing city staff to draft an executive order like King County did, which prohibited the flights from routine landings at Boeing Field in Seattle.
During the Yakima council meeting, those who opposed the flights cited human-rights concerns and increased fear in the community. Supporters said Yakima had an obligation to obey federal laws and turning away the flights put federal airport improvement money at risk.
The primary election is Aug. 6, with the top two candidates in each race advancing to the general election in November. For additional coverage of city candidates, go to www.yakimaherald.com/news/elections/.
The Yakima Herald-Republic asked candidates if they felt the City Council should revisit its decision on the ICE flights. Here’s what they said, by district position and in alphabetical order:
■ Kenton Gartrell: The United States is a nation of laws and the Yakima City Council needs to follow the law. The council was wise to do that and to refuse to block the ICE flights. Yakima has no authority to order one of its rent-paying tenants to turn away business and would have put itself at financial risk if it had. The City Council needs to learn how to work together, how to come together for the greater good. Its time and energy should be spent making Yakima a better place to live and work. Those are the things that matter.
■ Eliana Macias: It’s clear there isn’t support by the majority of the City Council to take action on this matter at this time. However, it is possible the City Council will be required to revisit its decision on ICE flights operating out of Yakima’s Air Terminal after the new state law, the Keep Washington Working Act, takes effect statewide. (Editor’s note: The law takes steps to reduce the state’s role in federal immigration enforcement.)
■ Matthew Sagen: I do believe that our City Council should rethink its decision regarding the ICE flights landing at the Yakima airport. We as a city are not an extension of immigration enforcement and therefore should not be an accessory to it. We should not be accepting of how these people are dehumanized while they are being transported. We should continue to strive to become better than what we currently are, and that requires us to really examine what we value. Many in the community are crying out for that exact examination. We need to stand together for the whole community and not just some of the community.
■ Patricia Byers: No. The city made a good decision, if not a totally popular one. As an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) airport, we are obligated to allow FAA-approved flights. We also rely on FAA funding for development and cannot risk that we might be forced to repay millions of dollars of previous grants, or jeopardize future ones. There is also the risk of a lawsuit, which we absolutely cannot afford to defend or to lose. I believe that focusing on overall public safety issues, neighborhood connections and development, and human compassion will do much more to break through fear than halting legitimate business.
■ Berenice Ponce: I absolutely do think they should revisit the topic, but at this point I don’t think the four council members who voted against it will change and so I do not know that it would change anything. I expect criticism for my opinion regarding the ICE flights in Yakima. But the bottom line is I will not compromise my moral compass and I will continue to use my voice to speak out against injustice, elected or not. Yakima residents should not live in fear.
■ Thomas Sund: I am in support of the ICE flights out of Yakima. The provider has a contract to use our airport for which we receive income. This is a federal program, and if we denied access we could not only lose our income but could also lose federal funding from the FAA, which is used to maintain and improve our facility.
■ Mark Collins: Did not respond.
■ Liz Hallock: I will revisit this in January to invoke our 5th and 10th Amendment rights to not participate in a deeply flawed federal regulatory program that vastly expands priorities for deportation to include nonviolent green card holders, asylum seekers facing expedited removal or no judge at all, targeting Central Americans over white undocumented immigrants, and gross violations of human rights, such as separating families and violating due process. I have gone to see the flights and the optics are horrible for our growing economy. This is embarrassing for Yakima, a city that prides itself on its Latino heritage.
■ Soneya Lund: I support the council’s decision to stay out of the ICE flight debate. The city does not have the right to prevent a private party (that leases space at the airport) from providing a legal service to a customer. Attempting to do so would violate several federal regulations and could result in the airport having to refund millions of dollars to the government. Another thing: Stopping ICE flights does not stop ICE. Doing so would have no real impact. The City Council should move on to more important issues, like finding a new city manager and making the streets safer.
■ Tracey Bautista: Did not respond.
■ Holly Cousens: I do not at this time believe as a City Council we can make an impact on the federal issue of immigration reform. We need immigration reform in the worst way; however, as a council body our job is to set policies for the city. I would like to see the council step out of the policy making role and write to our federal representatives and senators taking a stand about what is happening with immigrants not just in our city, but across our country and on our borders. We, as a city, stand to lose at minimum $19 million and possibly our contract with Alaska Air. Let’s take a stand and write to the individuals who can help change the law.
■ Sarah Towell: Did not respond.