They came to support, to console, to advocate.

“No estan solos — you are not alone,” chanted a combination of approximately 75 local citizens and people who traveled from across the region as they marched through Ellensburg on a path that eventually finished at the Kittitas County Corrections Center Sunday.

The marchers gathered to call on Kittitas County Sheriff Gene Dana to end a contract the county signed with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that allows the county jail to be used to house migrant workers who have been detained due to their immigration status.

An Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) was created in April 2018 that created a working relationship with the Kittitas County Sheriffs Office and ICE, but the contract has been sidelined by the state Legislature’s passing of the Keep Washington Working Act. The act effectively prohibits counties and cities from entering into contracts like the one Kittitas County is currently engaged in. Under the law, the county must withdraw from the contract by December 31, 2021. The contract, however, allows either side to withdraw at any time if a 30-day notice is given. As Sheriff Dana nears retirement, the hope of the marchers is that he provides that notice.

“We really look to our local elected officials to have conversations around pro-immigrant policy change,” Executive Director of Central Washington Justice for our Neighbors Abigail Scholar said. “Looking at their current policy models. Just creating relationships with those elected officials to see where they’re at on this spectrum in terms of how they view community and how they define community.”

Scholar’s group provides pro bono legal services for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They also are actively involved in advocacy work for the affected groups, participation in the march being an example of that. The group was formed by former United Methodist Church Pastor Jen Stuart and other local community members concerned with the state of affairs in the community.

“Specifically, how that was manifesting in relationships between what people often consider American which is sort of the traditional sense of a citizen and community members,” Scholar said. “People that may be of varied status. Those could be asylum seekers, refugees, people who have different forms of status in the community. DACA is another great example.”

Scholar said her group has had number of conversations in the past with the sheriff’s department, mainly pertaining to the April 2018 contract. Because of the contract, Scholar said the county serves as a direct pipeline to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

“What we want to do is we want to have further conversations with the Sheriff’s office and specifically with Sheriff Dana,” she said. “We know Sheriff Dana is retiring, and he’s had this really beautiful long legacy in Kittitas County. He’s retiring to be with family. He’s a family focused person, and he’s always been known to care about community. Law enforcement is there to care about community. They’re there to protect us. They’re there to ensure that everyone is cared for and safe.”

Scholar said the challenge with the county’s contract is that it tears families apart. She continued that it would be a harder argument if all the immigrants being detained had criminal backgrounds or were previously detained.

“That’s simply not the case,” she said. “The evidence doesn’t support it. A lot of the people that are getting swept up into this deportation machine and getting shoved through Kittitas (County) are family people. They’re community members that have been here for 20 years, some of them. Some of them are business owners. They have U.S. citizen children.”

Scholar said she believes that the county originally had decent intentions when they worked with ICE on the contract, but that polarization and changes in rhetoric have created a divide between the original intent and the current incarnation.

“It doesn’t serve the theoretical purpose that it purports,” she said. “That’s not Kittitas County’s fault.”

During the march on Sunday, Scholar said representatives of over 55 communities in the Northwest showed up to relay their message. At that time, she said there were at least two detainees on ICE holds at the county jail.

“We went to show solidarity with them,” she said. “We chanted to and for them, so they would know that we’re here for them and that the community cares for them. I think that’s really at the heart of the various organizations that were represented there.”


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