Update: To read about the initiative’s adoption, read this article.
The county council will hold a public hearing on a local immigration initiative on Tuesday, Aug. 15.
The initiative will appear on the Nov. 17 General Election ballot, unless the county council adopts it on Aug. 15. If the initiative is adopted, text cannot be changed for two years.
San Juan County Auditor Milene Henley requested the decision be made before an explanation of the measure was printed in the county’s voters’ guide on Aug. 18. That way, voters wouldn’t be confused about a measure printed in the guide, but not on the ballot.
San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord told the Journal that the initiative substantially changes county officials’ current practices to protect immigrants.
Putting policies in writing could prevent the county from receiving some federal funds from the current presidential administration, said Gaylord. He plans to give an official statement at the public hearing.
A sanctuary jurisdiction does not cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.
Gaylord previously told the Journal that San Juan County deputies do not follow Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold aliens for deportation, if it’s past their scheduled release dates, unless warrants are issued.
The county has no official declaration as a sanctuary jurisdiction, but this current unwritten policy mirrors one. That’s why ICE has identified the county as a sanctuary jurisdiction in several reports. The reports were created after President Donald Trump created an executive order to restrict federal funding for sanctuary jurisdictions.
The local initiative was certified on July 12, after the Immigrant Rights Group of the Orcas Women’s Coalition presented 2,382 valid signatures.
At the July 25 meeting, about seven people asked the council to adopt the initiative during the public comment section.
“The initiative has overwhelming support from San Juan County,” said Mark Cohen of Orcas.
Cindy Wolf, of Orcas, said the coalition created the initiative so undocumented immigrants would feel safer when contacting law enforcement, especially about domestic violence.
Councilman Bill Watson backed the local effort but encouraged the initiative supporters to look beyond the county.
“I think this issue is really important at a national level and the public conversation needs to be carried forward,” said Watson.