New Bellingham ordinance keeps City focused on local needs, not immigration enforcement

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​Bellingham City Council

​Last night the Bellingham City Council voted 7-0 on an ordinance reaffirming a commitment to keeping Bellingham a safe and welcoming city by focusing resources on local needs, not on enforcing federal immigration law.  According to City Council President Michael Lilliquist, "This is a good-government effort to ensure the City focuses on our local needs."  Mayor Kelli Linville said, "The ordinance reaffirms that the City will not consider immigration status in delivering City services." The following represents some answers to questions that have arisen regarding this ordinance. 

Question: Does this ordinance result in the City obstructing federal immigration enforcement?

Answer: No.  This ordinance is grounded in the principles of federalism and recognizes that immigration enforcement is a federal matter.  Cities have prime responsibility for delivering local services and enforcing state and local criminal laws.  While City staff will not assist in the enforcement of civil immigration law, Bellingham officers do not and will not obstruct federal agents from carrying out enforcement activities.

Question: Does this new ordinance result in the shielding of dangerous criminals?

Answer:  No. It simply directs the City to avoid participation in federal civil immigration enforcement.  Those who commit crimes, or who are wanted for crimes elsewhere, will be apprehended as usual regardless of their immigration status. 

Question: Does this ordinance change the way Bellingham police or other departments interact with Bellingham residents?

Answer:  No.  The ordinance clarifies that City departments do not inquire about immigration status when providing services.  Bellingham police will not be concerned with immigration matters at all unless these are directly related to criminal activity. 

Question:   What measures are in place to ensure that the Bellingham Police Department engages in law enforcement in a non-discriminatory way?

Answer:  Bellingham police are continually trained in techniques to avoid implicit bias, minimize use of force, and ensure nondiscriminatory treatment of all residents.  The Department also maintains policies that identify principles of non-discrimination and avoidance of entanglement in civil enforcement, and outline specific practices to enact such principles.

Question:  Is the City refusing to carry out legitimate law enforcement activities regarding immigration enforcement? 

Answer:  No.  The new ordinance and current practices are designed to be lawful and constitutional, and respect the separation between federal authority and local authority.  In addition, they represent a responsible choice by the City to avoid running afoul of the 4th Amendment which requires probable cause before holding someone for possible criminal investigations. 

Question: Will Bellingham lose substantial federal funds because it does not participate in federal civil immigration enforcement? 

Answer: This ordinance is fully in compliance with current federal law.  The City cannot predict future federal efforts to restrict local funding.  However, court cases have indicated that withholding funds as an inducement to local participation in carrying out federal priorities must be limited to those funds that are related to the general federal priority at issue. 

Question: Does this ordinance mean absolutely no contact with federal law enforcement agencies?

Answer: No.  Bellingham police will continue to work with federal authorities in cases that may involve cross-border criminal networks, or human trafficking.  Such cooperation was necessary, for example, in the recent apprehension of a criminal trafficking and prostitution ring that was operating in Bellingham.

Media Contacts

Danette Beckley, Public Information Officer
Bellingham Police Department
(360) 778-8648