Wednesday, October 9, 2019
KEEP WORKING: Bellingham City Council this week began to shape an ordinance that will continue to clarify city policy in response to federal immigration initiatives.
The proposed ordinance gives direction to city staff regarding data collection that is shared with Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It also establishes a citizens’ advisory board to review city policies and practices in response to at-risk communities and periodically report those findings back to City Council for review.
In a special presentation to Council in August, state Senator Liz Lovelett described the work of the Legislature in the crafting of the Keep Washington Working Act (Senate Bill E2SSB 5497). The Act, signed into law by the governor last May, is designed in part to clarify the duties and boundaries of local law enforcement in response to federal directives.
“Ultimately, at its heart, the law is a move toward Washington becoming a sanctuary state,” the 40th Legislative District Democrat explained in her presentation. “The goal is to get local law enforcement at the level of municipal police departments and sheriff’s offices to comply with the central tenets of—basically—privacy protection.”
More than that, the law attempts to create conditions of trust and confidence in law enforcement so that communities under scrutiny by Homeland Security and ICE feel safe in seeking protections and services, like emergency care for their children. The new law also establishes training requirements and resources for local law enforcement and social workers.
“If you get pulled over for your tail light being out, for example, there is no reason to then segue that contact into a conversation about ‘do you have your paperwork, show me proof of residence’—that is all already unconstitutional,” Lovelett explained. “If you are arrested for a crime, local law enforcement can report that out to ICE at that time, but what we’re trying to get at is a place where people who are just in the routine course of their lives are not being hassled for existing.
“Whatcom County, being a border county, we know has a specific relationship with federal enforcement than in counties that do not have a border.
“With the hate crimes we’ve seen of late,” Lovelett observed, “it is more important than ever that these residents feel safe in their community.”
Senate Bill 5497, the Keep Washington Working Act, has an unusual genesis. It was initially presented as the Keep Bellingham Working Act by activists in the community of farmworker justice. Bellingham City Council balked at the full implementation of the proposal, feeling uncomfortable by getting too far ahead of state policy developing around these issues. Council instead passed a resolution and ordinance that gave direction and protection to city staff, essentially indemnifying city police—all the elements of sanctuary without the title of sanctuary, city leaders claimed.
“They protected themselves against us demanding more,” observed Rosalinda Guillén, executive director of Community to Community Development.
The city’s early response was tepid and inadequate, leaders like Guillén believe. They marched their proposal to Olympia. Their efforts resulted in Washington passing the strongest statewide sanctuary policy in the nation.
That’s action (and protection) the city can use in crafting its own policy moving forward.
City Council, meanwhile, threw their newest member into the deep end of the pool on these issues, placing her in the lead on a new area of city policy.
Hannah Stone, a private practice attorney specializing in immigration law, has proved a strong swimmer in these churning waters, providing leadership that led to the adoption of their ordinance this week. Her skills have proven to be a perfect match for a need of the City Council at this moment.
“There is concern in the community—and I can understand rightfully so—about the role of this advisory board going forward,” Stone summarized in her presentation. “The purpose of forming this group is to serve the broader community and strengthen those relationships, and open up lines of communication.”
Senate Bill 5497 shows a long-term commitment by the state “to address interactions between, specifically, law enforcement and immigration authorities,” Stone said. Looking long-term, Bellingham’s proximity to the international border may demand a comprehensive approach to immigration issues, she said.
Nearly one million residents of Washington—one in every seven people in this state—are immigrants, and they are an integral part of our communities and workforce. By protecting workers in Washington, the Keep Washington Working Act strengthens local economies across the state.
Jurisdictions that do not use local resources to enforce federal immigration laws have positive outcomes, according to a recent study that analyzed the federal government’s own data. Specifically, local jurisdictions that say “no” to ICE enforcement have lower rates of crime, poverty, and unemployment than those that choose to collaborate, and thus, blur the line between local law enforcement and federal agencies.
“Hannah Stone has really stepped into leadership for the City Council on this issue,” Guillén observed. “The rest of the City Council just dumped it on her, in my opinion. So I’ve told them, ‘You’d better do what Hannah says,’” she laughed.
Stone is up for election again in November, attempting to shift from the city’s mercurial two-year At-Large position to a more durable four-year term in Ward One. She has an excellent opponent in Beth Hartsoch, a strong voice and visionary for transportation alternatives, and one agony of the 2019 ballot is they can’t both be elected. But, in the Gristle’s view, Hannah’s work on City Council must continue.