Council considering ‘safe, inclusive and welcoming’ resolution

Further discussion set for Feb. 27 work session at City Hall
By Nicholas Johnson | Feb 22, 2017

The City Council plans to continue discussing whether to adopt a “safe, inclusive and welcoming” resolution during a Monday, Feb. 27, work session at City Hall.

“I think it was encouraging that we had a letter in the [Mukilteo] Beacon this week (“Let’s make Mukilteo a sanctuary city,” Feb. 15) advocating for this discussion,” Councilmember Richard Emery said during a Feb. 13 city council meeting at City Hall.

“I think it’s a really important discussion to have if for no other reason than to make sure the community understands the city’s position on equality and fairness and equity, and protecting and treating all of our citizens equally regardless of their immigration status.”

The cities of Everett, Lynnwood and Edmonds have adopted similar resolutions. Olympia adopted a sanctuary city resolution in December 2016.

Seattle’s sanctuary city status stems from a 2003 ordinance barring police from inquiring into a person’s immigration status without reasonable suspicion the person has been previously deported and has committed a felony.

While there is no clear legal definition of a sanctuary city, the term typically refers to a city that has adopted a policy of protecting illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws. These policies restrict use of city money to enforce these laws and forbid police from asking people about their status.

“This concept definitely aligns with our current vision and our current practice,” Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said.

The city’s shared vision “supports a diverse and inclusive community where residents are safe in our homes and neighborhoods.” A long-standing police department policy also says police do not ask people about their immigration status.

Since issuing an executive order Jan. 25 titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” President Donald Trump has said that cities who refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, such as grants.

“I think the landscape around that has been shifting,” said Gregerson, adding that the city would not be alone if the issue went to court.

“There are probably bigger cities than ours that would start that battle should it come to that.”

She said any federal officials would likely target grant money associated with enforcing immigration laws, but not those for roads and schools, for example.

“It seems the only grants that could have been affected would have been if we received the school resource officer grant,” she said.

Current federal grants for city road and infrastructure projects total nearly $1.5 million. Also, if hazardous materials are found at the waterfront Tank Farm site, the U.S. Department of Defense would be responsible for footing the bill to clean it up.

Councilmember Randy Lord asked Police Chief Cheol Kang whether his department’s policy is tied to anything in city code or case law.

“Can we strengthen that police policy so it isn’t subject to change on political whims?” Lord asked.

Kang noted that a 2013 Pierce County Superior Court ruling in a case called Ramirez-Rangel v. Kitsap County declared that Article 1, Section 7 of the state Constitution is violated when police question people about immigration status during a stop or prolong that stop in order to investigate a person’s status further.

“A lot of departments have taken that case law and expanded it to not asking questions about immigration,” Kang told the council, noting that his department takes that further by not asking about immigration status during any type of contact.

“With regards to our jobs as first responders and criminal investigators, a person’s immigration status serves no purpose for what we do as a local law enforcement agency,” he said. “Our agency will not use our resources to investigate a person’s immigration status. Unless the contact with an individual is relevant to a separate criminal offense or investigation, there would not be any further contact.”

Lord said the policy’s basis in case law “makes me feel more secure than [just saying] we think it’s a good idea.

“We all know it’s a good idea, but we may not be here 10 years from now, and then someone else might think another thing is a good idea,” he said.

“I think it’s important for us as a council to make sure our citizens recognize that we believe that they are all citizens.”

Emery echoed Lord, saying, “If they are a resident, it is part of our job to try to take care of them, and work with them in an open and responsible way.”

Kang said any good discussion of the issue should be accompanied by an understanding of the role of a local police department in such matters.

“There’s a lot of information, myths and rumors out there causing angst and fear on this topic,” he said. “The bottom line is that most of this can be quelled if the public understands that our agency will only be enforcing local and state laws.”

None of the councilmembers expressed opposition to a resolution affirming the city’s vision and the police department’s policy.

“I think this aligns well with our city’s vision of inclusiveness and diversity,” said Councilmember Christine Cook.

“I think, from a public safety standpoint, it can keep all of our residents safe if people are not afraid to call the fire or the police department when they need that. It helps everybody so it keeps our community safer in general.”

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