February 19, 2009

About Bellingham's Sanctuary City proposal

The people of Bellingham are calling for an ordinance that will provide legal sanctuary for members of the military who exercise their duty to object to an illegal war. To that end, we hope to have grassroots community effort to urge City Council to pass resolutions to not waste public funds on the arrest or detention of service members who are absent without leave.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Sanctuary City?
Increasing numbers of people in the US military are questioning the US role in Iraq, and some are exercising their right to refuse to participate in an illegal war. These brave soldiers are now forced to live underground or flee to Canada. Army desertion rates have risen 80 percent since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Associated Press.

Bellingham is already on record with a strong city council resolution calling for an our Troops to come home, and another supporting diplomacy with Iran. Making Bellingham a sanctuary city is the next step in voicing our opposition to the war and showing our support for troops who refuse to participate in the occupation of Iraq. Let’s make history by making Bellingham the first sanctuary city for GI resisters in the US and help lead the nation away from illegal war.

What is the need for sanctuary?
People in the US military today face unprecedented hardship. Two, three or even four tours of duty to war zones are becoming common, tours have been lengthened to up to 15 months and stop-loss prevents soldiers from leaving when their agreed terms are up. National Guard members who joined to assist in disasters within the US are being called oversees for duties they never signed up for. More than 50% of returning veterans face serious health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and veterans’ suicide rates are skyrocketing. Sexual, mental and physical abuse and harassment within the military is at a high level and conscientious objector status is increasingly difficult to obtain. More and more soldiers are going AWOL for a variety of reasons including family and health issues as well as opposition to the war. As civilians, we can be allies to soldiers who are brave enough to reject this destructive system by providing a sanctuary city for GI resisters.

How will the sanctuary city work?
The most common way that AWOL soldiers are turned into the military is by being pulled over at routine traffic stops or through other minor infractions. When local police run a soldier’s license and find a federal AWOL order, they have the option to detain the soldier and turned them over to the military. To make Bellingham a sanctuary city, we are asking the Bellingham City Council to pass an ordinance that instructs Bellingham police to not act upon AWOL orders. This will provide a measure of security to AWOL soldiers in Bellingham and send a message that we support those with the courage to resist.

The sanctuary city campaign is also developing resources for soldiers and veterans in Bellingham, including help with jobs, housing, legal, medical and psychological issues.

Is a separation of power in Bellingham's best interest?
By defining Bellingham as a sanctuary city, we are asking our local police not to act on Federal AWOL orders. This will make a statement that the job of the local police is to serve and protect the local community and not take on responsibilities of the Federal Government. These soldiers are members of our community with families and relatives living in Bellingham. Similar laws have been enacted in other community campaigns to create sanctuary and separate the powers of law enforcement, especially in regards to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

-thanks to Gene Marx of Veterans for Peace for this update

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