In the wake of the presidential election results, some Eastside residents have expressed fears of deportation or arrest due to their undocumented status.
The city of Bellevue and local agencies are taking action to help assuage those fears and keep those families in the area should the new administration take action against them.
More than 250 Eastside residents attended an immigration forum on Nov. 17 at Stevenson Elementary School in which groups informed those in attendance how to get documents in order and shore themselves up legally.
President-elect Donald Trump spoke repeatedly on the campaign trail about deporting undocumented immigrants and their families, and such rhetoric has left unease. The Bellevue event was not a politically motivated one, the groups involved claim — despite some of the subject matter.
“We had a big group of people who were unsure about their futures,” said Jennifer Fischer, executive director of Bellevue LifeSpring — a nonprofit providing support for children and families. “All these groups came together to provide information and education for these families.”
LifeSpring joined with the Eastside Legal Assistance Program, Jubilee REACH, the city of Bellevue’s city manager’s office, the Bellevue School District and the Bellevue Police Department — to name a few of the groups invested in the community — to help the residents get the proper paperwork in order.
Jerry Kroon, executive director of the Eastside Legal Assistance Program — a nonprofit that provides pro bono legal assistance for underprivileged people — said his organization was going to back to these residents with undocumented status as much as it could.
“We want to make sure the emergency contact forms and guardian forms in the school district are taken care of,” he said. “If a parent gets tied up in the legal system for six months, there has to be somewhere for the children to go.”
The city of Bellevue supports the effort to keep the residents in town.
Mayor John Stokes read a statement at the Nov. 14 City Council meeting to that effect.
“I also want to reassure you that Bellevue is committed to protecting and serving everyone in the community,” he said. “Any form of intolerance, hate speech or discrimination is unacceptable. If you or your family are feeling unsafe or need help, I encourage you to reach out to city staff or the Bellevue police. We are here for you.”
City Manager Brad Miyake, along with Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett, offered succor to families afraid that they would be forced to leave the country.
As far as the city is concerned, undocumented immigrants can stay in Bellevue as long as they follow Washington and Bellevue law, and the city will not offer help to federal agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement in efforts to remove residents from Bellevue.
“The Bellevue Police Department is not going to participate in widespread roundups should that initiative occur after inauguration day,” Mylett said. “Our policy is not changing. We do not ask the immigration status of suspects or witnesses.”
He added that those guidelines did not apply if there was a suspicion of complicity in violent crime. In that case, Mylett said he’d execute the warrant himself, even if it did come from a federal agency. But for immigration violations alone, the Bellevue Police Department would not take part.
Mylett said that with any fears, people arise who seek to exploit those concerns. If residents get calls from people claiming to be representatives of law enforcement or from people selling something or offering security for a price, the chief urges those residents to call the police department.
The general message of the event was to keep calm as there were many unknowns ahead.
“Our hope is that everyone walked out of the room feeling more secure,” Fischer said. “If you have any outstanding parking tickets or fines, pay them. Just make sure you have a clean house to avoid any trouble.”
Fischer mentioned that some students had been bullied in the Bellevue School District.
“The parents experienced some incidents after the election,” she said. “And now we are asking parents that if their sons or daughters are being bullied to call the police department.”
Elizabeth Sytman, communications director for the Bellevue School District, said the district asks parents to update emergency contacts every year, but was being as helpful as possible for the increased attention to those contacts.
Kroon said the families should have a contact person with legal status in the United States to help even if deportations were to happen.
His organization will host a free clinic from 9 a.m. to noon on Dec. 10 at Stevenson Elementary to help the families get those papers and legal support in order.