YAKIMA — The City Council voted down a proposal to try to prohibit flights chartered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement from the Yakima Air Terminal-McAllister Field.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilmember Kay Funk requested that Yakima city staff draft an executive order similar to the one authorized by King County Executive Dow Constantine that prohibited ICE-chartered flights out of Boeing Field in Seattle.
The council voted 4-3 against the proposal, with Funk, Dulce Gutierrez and Carmen Mendez voting in favor. Mayor Kathy Coffey, Brad Hill, Holly Cousens and Jason White voted no.
ICE started operating out of the Yakima airport on May 7, after Constantine’s order in April. Since then, more than 650 undocumented individuals have been transported out of the city, including those with criminal records and asylum-seekers whose claims have been denied, according to ICE officials.
The city of Yakima receives a $200 landing fee for each chartered flight. ICE has consistently used the airport at least twice a week, usually on Tuesdays and either Saturday or Sunday of any given week. Individuals are transported to and from chartered flights and buses bound for the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in handcuffs, leg irons and waist chains.
Funk’s motion came after more than an hour of public comment, during which 24 people spoke against the flights and five in favor.
Those who opposed the flights cited human-rights concerns, increased fear in the community, and concerns that city leadership was prioritizing profit over people. Supporters said that Yakima had an obligation to obey federal laws in servicing the flights, that those laws had been created for the safety of all U.S. citizens, and that undocumented individuals should seek citizenship through established means.
Before the vote, Funk noted that the council’s decision was not a dichotomy between choosing humane treatment and following federal laws. She said the drafted executive order would be a statement of support for the immigrant community and that the likelihood of Yakima facing serious consequences — such as the loss of federal funding for airport improvements or a mandate to pay back more than $19 million received in federal funds for the past years — were slim.
“If we are aggressively challenged, we can fold our hand at any time,” she noted.
Mendez said her vote in favor of the executive order was voicing her support for the immigrant community, particularly given that agriculture and migrant workers fuel much of Yakima’s economy.
“We depend on this labor force,” Mendez said. “Some of these individuals tend to be undocumented. They are here, they are working and contributing to our economy. This is a topic that affects a lot of us.”
Hill, who said he has witnessed the ICE chartered flights, said he voted against the proposal because he did not believe any action by the City Council would change policy at the federal level.
“I have not been sufficiently convinced that this will change federal immigration policy,” Hill said. “I’m also both personally and professionally offended by statements that this vote is about taking a stand for the immigrant population.”
Cousens said her role as a council member was not to be an advocate but rather a policymaker.
“If they don’t land here, they will land somewhere else,” she said.