Connecting to the undocumented in Mattawa to improve safety, community

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Agencies in Mattawa have been working for years to improve trust between undocumented immigrants and city officials, especially those wearing a badge.

To that end, the city wants to provide opportunities for residents to get better acquainted with their rights and the city services they’re guaranteed, said Mattawa Police Chief Joe Harris. City officials are in talks to bring Alycia Moss, a private immigration attorney from Coeur d’Alene, to Mattawa in mid-September to help advise residents of their rights as an undocumented immigrant and to provide free consultation.

This is an opportunity to build trust between agencies and undocumented residents, Harris said. The police department has a practical need for this kind of trust, Harris said, because they need to reassure residents that speaking with law enforcement won’t result in deportations or harassment.

“Where some of these people come from, it’s not OK to talk with the government,” Harris said. “We need to show them that we’re not corrupt and that they can trust us.”

Undocumented residents also need to know that local law enforcement aren’t going to report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they haven’t committed a crime, Harris said. Without first building trust, Harris said, the police department can’t expect cooperation from many in the community.

Harris knows firsthand how bad that can be.

While a deputy with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, Harris was investigating a murder in Mattawa in 2012, when a 28-year old pregnant mother of three was shot in the back in an apartment complex parking lot. Harris believes to this day that there were witnesses to the murder who could help solve the case. Everyone that Harris spoke to at the time, however, said they hadn’t seen anything.

That murder was never solved, and is currently still being investigated by the Sheriff’s Office.

Harris hopes that continued outreach will help change the culture of “no snitching” and distrust that police departments face across the country.

The city will also be using next month’s event to educate residents about community agencies, such as New Hope and Grant County Public Health, that can provide services to residents. City agencies will also be introducing themselves to residents and try to educate them about everything from utility rates to city council operations.

This is all necessary, Harris said, in order to create a tighter knit community that better understand the services available to them and works together

“The community makes the city,” Harris said.

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