FILE — Dozens of people attended the Yakima City Council meeting Tuesday, July 16, 2019.

The Yakima City Council voted down a proposal to try to prohibit flights chartered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from the Yakima Air Terminal-McAllister Field.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilwoman Kay Funk requested that Yakima city staff draft an executive order similar to the one authorized by King County Executive Dow Constantine that prohibited ICE-chartered flights out of Boeing Field in Seattle.

The council voted 4-3 against the proposal, with Funk, Dulce Gutierrez and Carmen Mendez voting in favor. Mayor Kathy Coffey, Brad Hill, Holly Cousens and Jason White voted no.

ICE started operating out of the Yakima airport on May 7, following Constantine’s order in April. Since then, more than 650 undocumented individuals have been transported out of the city, including those with criminal records and asylum seekers whose claims have been denied, according to ICE spokespersons.

The city of Yakima receives a $200 landing fee for each chartered flight. ICE has consistently used the airport at least twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and either Saturday or Sunday of any given week. Individuals are transported to and from chartered flights and buses bound for the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in handcuffs, leg irons and waist chains.

Funk’s motion came after more than an hour of public comment, during which 24 people spoke against the flights and five in favor.

Those who opposed the flights cited human-rights concerns, increased fear in the community, and concerns that city leadership was prioritizing profit over people. Supporters said that Yakima had an obligation to obey federal laws in servicing the flights, that those laws had been created for the safety of all U.S. citizens, and that undocumented individuals should seek citizenship through established means.

Public comment was rowdy, with loud bursts of applause when a speaker voiced outrage over the presence of the flights. Coffey reminded the audience several times that commenting and applause was not allowed in chambers. Coffey paused the comment period at one point, telling the public that if inappropriate behavior continued she would have the chambers cleared.

Prior to the vote, Funk noted that the council’s decision was not a dichotomy between choosing humane treatment and following federal laws. She said the drafted executive order would be a statement of support for the immigrant community and that the likelihood of Yakima facing serious consequences — such as the loss of federal funding for airport improvements or a mandate to pay back more than $19 million received in federal funds for the past years — were slim.

“If we are aggressively challenged, we can fold our hand at any time,” she noted.

Mendez said her vote in favor of the executive order was voicing her support for the immigrant community, particularly given that agriculture and migrant workers fuel much of Yakima’s economy.

“We depend on this labor force,” Mendez said. “Some of these individuals tend to be undocumented. They are here, they are working and contributing to our economy. This is a topic that affects a lot of us.”

Hill, who said he has witnessed the ICE chartered flights, said he voted against the proposal because he did not believe any action by the City Council would change policy at the federal level.

“I have not been sufficiently convinced that this will change federal immigration policy,” Hill said. “I’m also both personally and professionally offended by statements that this vote is about taking a stand for the immigrant population.”

Cousens said her role as a council member was not to be an advocate but rather a policymaker.

“If they don’t land here, they will land somewhere else,” she said.

Other action

Gutierrez also requested that Yakima look into options to expand the airport’s fixed-base operators — organizations that handle airport operations such as fueling and landing.

Yakima’s airport has only one — McCormick Air — compared with three that operate at Boeing Field in King County, which Gutierrez said allowed a monopoly in Yakima.

Airport Director Robert Peterson said the airport’s small size justified having only one fixed-base operator. Peterson also noted that the city’s contract with McCormick Air lasts through 2044. Gutierrez then asked if council could meet with McCormick to see if he would be willing to negotiate with the city about stopping the flights.

Rob McCormick, who was in the audience, stood and addressed Gutierrez’s questions, saying he would not discriminate about which flights he allowed to land and adding that the fixed-base operators in King County had felt threatened by the executive order.

“I will service them as long as I am legally able,” McCormick said. “Please don’t intimidate me or threaten my lease.”

In answering additional questions, McCormick said that he did employ a number of undocumented individuals for operations on a ranch he owned, prompting more than a dozen people to stand up and leave the meeting.

The motion to expand fixed-base operators failed 6-1, with Gutierrez the sole yes vote.

The council unanimously agreed to direct city staff to look into liability and insurance concerns about shackled immigrants boarding the planes. City Manager Cliff Moore said the main liability was that those leaving boarded the aircraft using city-owned steps, so that any possible injuries while boarding could make the city liable.

“We have observed it can be challenging for people who are shackled to navigate the steps,” Moore said.

The council also voted unanimously for city staff to contact the city’s state lobbyists and set up a special meeting about immigration reform and the concerns they have heard from their constituents. Moore said staff would have something drafted for council review by the Sept. 17 council meeting.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.

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