Sanctuary city issue divides councilSome want to affirm city’s vision, others feel it’s unnecessary
Sanctuary city status aside, Mukilteo’s City Council is divided over whether to affirm its shared vision of the city as “a diverse and inclusive community.”
The council took no action during a workshop discussion Monday, Feb. 27, on whether to declare Mukilteo a sanctuary city, a “safe, inclusive and welcoming” city, or make no resolution at all.
Those councilmembers who spoke on the issue during a brief discussion Feb. 13 – Randy Lord, Richard Emery, Christine Cook and Mayor Jennifer Gregerson – all expressed support for a resolution declaring the city safe, inclusive and welcoming to everyone, regardless of immigration status.
On Feb. 27, Councilmembers Ted Wheeler and Scott Whelpley said no such affirmation is necessary since city police already operate under a policy of not asking about immigration status. For his part, Council President Bob Champion said he had not heard much public clamor for any such declaration.
Gregerson and Councilmember Steve Schmalz were absent from the Feb. 27 meeting.
“My personal emails have been more, ‘Why are you guys doing this?’ versus ‘You need to do this,’” Champion said. “Are we the ones driving this or are our citizens asking us to do this?”
Champion also said the push to pass a resolution seems to be tied to the fact that other jurisdictions have done so.
The cities of Everett, Lynnwood and Edmonds have adopted “safe, inclusive and welcoming” resolutions. Olympia adopted a sanctuary city resolution in December 2016.
Seattle has been a sanctuary city since 2003, while Gov. Jay Inslee declared the state a sanctuary on Feb. 23.
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 public money to enforce these laws and forbid police from asking people about their status.
Wheeler read the dictionary definition of the word “sanctuary.” He said the word is a nonstarter for him because it suggests the city would be advertising itself as a place for illegal immigrants to hide from federal authorities.
“Calling Mukilteo a sanctuary city, I tell you what, that will fire more people up in this city, in my opinion, maybe not so much the liberals, but the conservatives, it’s going to fire them up big time because we’ve paid our tax dollars to keep us safe.”
Whelpley said he understands the anxiety President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration has caused because Whelpley himself is half Mexican. He said the city has been safe, inclusive and welcoming for immigrants since well before Trump took office.
“Why do we need to change anything?” he asked. “Why do we have to all of a sudden raise the flag and wave a banner and say look at us? We don’t need to make a statement.”
Lord said such a statement would be similar to how the council, each year for many years, passed a resolution opposing expansion of Paine Field as an expression of its position on the issue.
“People are scared,” he said. “There are a whole lot of people who are frightened of the executive order. They don’t know what it means.
“Our police department is going to enforce our laws, state laws, but we’re not going to deputize our people to make them immigration officers for the federal government.”
Wheeler questioned why immigrants might be afraid to talk to city police.
“Why? Are they illegal? Are they here illegally? Do they want to stay here being illegal? That’s the only reason I would be afraid to talk to a policeman; if I’m doing something illegal, if I’m doing something wrong.”
Police Chief Cheol Kang said police work depends on trust.
“We want to get as much cooperation out of anyone we do contact and not have the fear in the community,” he said.
Cook said a resolution affirming the city’s shared vision could have public safety benefits.
“There’s a possibility that we could actually have a benefit to the community in terms of our public safety if we remind people of what we’re already doing and who we already are,” she said.
Emery, who is now drafting a resolution to present to the full council at a later meeting, said whether the public is clamoring for city action is not the issue.
“The question, I think, is not whether the citizens are demanding it,” he said, “but how do we want to represent ourselves as leaders of the community.”