The mayor thought declaring Forest Grove a "sanctuary city" would be a no-brainer.
About a quarter of the Washington County city's 21,000 residents are Latino...
"They play a significant role in the culture of this community," Truax said.
But Monday night, in a tie vote that has divided the community, the council decided it wouldn't be a sanctuary city....
Councilors said they worried the term is too polarizing. President Donald Trump has vowed to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities...
Sanctuary cities have been around since the 1980s and use a variety of tactics to shield undocumented immigrants. Some prevent local law enforcement officers from asking about the immigration status of residents. Others refuse to hold suspected undocumented immigrants past their scheduled release dates.
After Trump won the presidency in November, dozens of officials across the country voted to declare sanctuary.
Oregon is, by practice, a sanctuary state. A state law prevents local police officers from inquiring about anyone's immigration status if they have not committed a crime. Still, some Oregon cities and counties have passed symbolic resolutions...
Last year, then Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler said Portland will remain a sanctuary city under his tenure. In December, Corvallis declared itself a sanctuary city. And Beaverton's council unanimously passed a sanctuary city resolution...
Washington County activists want others to follow suit. In January, a crowd rallied outside a Hillsboro City Council meeting to demand that city declare sanctuary....
"I think it would have given all of our residents the opportunity to know Forest Grove is an open and accepting community that honors diversity," Truax said.
The mayor drafted a resolution defining "sanctuary city" as one that is safe for residents, regardless of their immigration status, one that ensures undocumented immigrants can call police or fire crews for help without fear of being deported.
About 150 people packed a Jan. 9 public hearing. Six people opposed the resolution. Thirty-four people supported the idea. Most said they wanted the city to use the word "sanctuary" in its resolution.
"When cities declare that they're sanctuaries, those people know for a fact that they are welcome there, that they won't be torn away from their families...
Since then, 53 more people have sent in supportive comments, while two people wrote to oppose the resolution.
"When I see that kind of imbalance between those in favor and those opposed, to me my vote was a no-brainer," Truax said.
Other councilors agonized.
"This is the hardest decision that I have ever had to make," said Ron Thompson, who has spent 15 years on the council.
Thompson said he wants to make the city a better place for minorities. He has worked to add low-income housing for migrant workers. But he also worried approving the resolution might cause residents to revolt and vote down a public safety levy that pays for nearly a quarter of the town's police and fire bureaus.
"I don't want the sanctuary thing to split our community so that we are not working together to make improvements," Thompson said.
Timothy Rippe, a retiree who joined the council in November, said he knows Forest Grove residents have experienced "real fear, real vulnerability" following Trump's election...
Ultimately, Rippe decided he had to vote against declaring sanctuary. The label is too polarizing, he said, and Forest Grove can't risk losing any federal money. Other vulnerable residents depend on the dollars, he said.
According to staff reports -- printed in both English and Spanish -- Forest Grove will receive about $4 million in federal aid this year. The city is expecting $325,000 for a senior center kitchen remodel, $240,000 for sewer work and $3.6 million for road improvements.
Rippe worried especially about the money earmarked for the senior center. Meals on Wheels plans to use the kitchen, he said, to deliver food to the elderly.
"I just don't see how we can morally say one group is more important than another group," Rippe said. "We all have parents and grandparents who are getting older and more vulnerable. To jeopardize their well-being is not taking care of the entire community."
Matthew Vandehey, a new councilor who voted against Truax's proposal, said he worried declaring sanctuary would have given undocumented immigrants "a false sense of security."
"Throughout history, both church and political sanctuary offered immunity to arrest," Vandehey said. "That is how it can be interpreted, but that is not what the city can provide."
If federal immigration agents want to raid Forest Grove, local officials won't be able to stop residents from being deported.
Bridget Cooke, executive director of Adelante Mujeres, said people at her Latino community nonprofit are "saddened but not disheartened.
"We were hoping for a shout out of support, instead we got a whisper," Cooke said. "But we can work with that."
Truax said he is "deeply disappointed" and unsure of what to do next.
"A 3-3 tie is almost worse than a no vote," Truax said. "It really leaves us in a quandary."
Only a few hours after the meeting, Truax said he'd already heard from many angry residents on both sides.
"Make no mistake: When I talk to people who share with me disappointment right now, I say I share their disappointment," Truax said. "We will struggle on. The arc of justice, as Dr. King says, bends. But it takes time."