Written by Suzie Ovel

CIELO volunteers joined hundreds of people from across Washington state to promote immigrant rights and make courts safer for immigrants at the Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Day on Feb. 5 in Olympia.

“It was important for CIELO to be involved because it’s something that affects our community.  The bills that were talked about to our representatives affect our clients and students,” said Kindra Galán, CIELO’s Education Program Coordinator.

The advocacy day, led by the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, brought together immigrants, educators, attorneys and other activists to meet with legislators and staff from 43 legislative districts, and ensure they hear directly from their constituents about the need to protect immigrant rights.  Lin Nelson, a volunteer with another organization that helped host the event (Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance), stressed the impact of people directly affected by immigration laws and policies telling their stories.

“For people for whom this is their life story where they’re immigrants and/or connected to the immigrant community directly, I think that it is key that their voices be heard and that their voices shape the movement,” said Nelson.  “It’s important that legislators and staff see and witness and hear from and engage with the folks who are directly impacted by immigration policy.”

The advocacy day included an intense workshop to help volunteers prep for their meetings with the legislature, a rally at the Capitol, and then the legislative meetings themselves.  This year participants focused on supporting the Courts Open to All Act (House Bill 2567 and Senate Bill 6522), which will protect people from warrantless civil immigration arrests at court, prohibit prosecutors and court staff from using local and state justice resources to report people to federal immigration enforcement, and require courts to collect data on immigration agents’ surveillance of courthouses.

The Courts Open to All Act adds additional protections to supplement last year’s new Keep Washington Working law that limits immigration enforcement in public schools, health facilities operated by the state or its political subdivisions, courthouses, and shelters.

“When we talk about ‘Open Courts for All’ we want to make sure that our clients feel safe to attend court hearings, pay their tickets and follow the law.  It creates fear when we hear that people can be apprehended if they are simply going to the courthouse to testify for a crime or pay their dues.  It’s important to CIELO because we need to make it clear that whatever affects our community affects us,” said Galán.