By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
A Keizer City Council work session on how to make the city more inclusive generated a lot of talk, but little in the way of actionable ideas Monday, July 10.
The end result was a pledge to keep the conversation going.
Earlier this year, the Keizer City Council set a goal of doing a better job of reaching out to city residents and, within a month, a group of concerned citizens brought forth a proposal for an inclusivity resolution.
The hoped-for resolution would be a statement from the city declaring that anyone is welcome within its limits and resolving to fight racism, religious discrimination, sexism, homophobia and violence or bullying in schools and neighborhoods. It could also address fears old, new or simply renewed among the local immigrant community, which drew the detraction from one city councilor.
“We are trying to reaffirm current practices and our proposal would not change any practices, but it would send a stern message of acceptance,” said Levi Herrera-Lopez, director of Salem’s Mano a Mano, which has a mission of helping local families becoming self-sufficient and empowered.
Mayor Cathy Clark said the city already planned to dedicate resources toward the issue “you just brought us a vehicle we didn’t anticipate when we established that goal.”
While no formal language has been established for the resolution, the recurring theme of the discussion fell on immigration and fears among the immigrant community as federal authorities have taken a harder line against undocumented immigrants. On average nationwide, 108 immigrants have been arrested per day since the beginning of the Donald Trump presidency, an increase of 150 percent over the same period last year.
A resolution “sends a strong message to immigrant communities that if you are contributing and building a family in this community you are not a target,” Herrera-Lopez said.
Knowing the city has their back is a meaningful step in encouraging members of the immigrant community – documented or undocumented – to step up and use their voice, said Cristina Marquez, advocacy and civic engagement coordinator for Causa, an immigrant rights organization.
“For people to come and access (things like) city committees they need to know their city stands with them,” Marquez said.
The current feeling among the immigrant community is one of fear of going into government buildings and sometimes even opening the front door, Marquez said.
That message struck a chord with City Councilor Laura Reid, who is also a teacher at McNary High School.
“There is a lot of anxiety over our students’ legal status and affects our work,” Reid said, adding that the message of a resolution would need to be communicated with such families.
Clark added that fear has other consequences.
“Fear keeps people silent when something needs to be dealt with,” Clark said.
Councilor Amy Ryan expressed discomfort with addressing issues of undocumented immigration in an inclusivity resolution.
“I don’t think it’s our position as councilors to create a sense of false reassurance for the immigrant community,” said Ryan. She was also concerned about expending city staff time and resources on the issue.
Anna Siqueira da Silva, another member of the group requesting the resolution, countered that immigration was only one piece of the proposal that includes ethnic, religious, sexual and ability diversity.
“(The resolution) is inclusive of lots of different groups that are consistently excluded. There are many different types of diversity and we want them to be included,” Siqueira da Silva said.
The one idea that gained some traction during the meeting was the possibility of the city adopting an equity and empowerment lens for decision making. An equity and empowerment lens is a decision-making tool that serves as a reminder to policy-setters to consider the impacts of decisions on frequently underrepresented groups (see illustration Page A1).
“It helps remind us to ask the right questions,” said Clark. “There are other levels of government that have done it and it’s not changing policies or practices at this time, but an opportunity to take it to the next level.”
Councilor Bruce Anderson said that idea sat well with him, “I kind of like that (equity lens) and not reinventing the wheel.I think what I like is that it will serve as a guidepost to the city staff and put into action what we are contemplating.”
While the meeting ended without plotting specific next steps, Councilor Roland Herrera said he was hopeful.
“I really believe that something tangible and actionable will come out of this. The goal is to include everybody and they deserve to be included,” Herrera said.