Burien City Council passes ‘sanctuary’ law that protects immigration status
By Jack Mayne
A loudly clapping and cheering audience at the Burien City Council meeting Monday night (Jan. 9) welcomed the 4–3 vote approving a revised ordinance that said city officials, police and contractors could not seek information about the immigration status of residents.
The four who voted “Yes” include: Stephen Armstrong, Austin Bell, Lauren Berkowitz and Nancy Tosta; voting “No” was Mayor Lucy Krakowiak, Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar and Debi Wagner.
The discussion a few weeks ago began as one to create a sanctuary for undocumented residents, and one modeled after a very strong San Francisco ordinance which was modified on Monday evening to not include the term “sanctuary” because as one Councilmember explained, the term is not a legal word and that it means different things to different people.
An estimated 40 or so people – mostly supporters – were in the chamber to make comments on the ordinance, introduced as one that would not permit city officials, elected or staff, or others representing the city as contractors to enquire into a person’s immigration status, but can accept that information if it is offered by individuals.
Early in the over four-hour session, resident Rachael Levine (pictured above) wanted to know if Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar would “be here to complete the business of this hearing tonight.”
She was referring to the two who left the last Council meeting before the vote on the proposal two weeks ago. That 3-2 vote approving the sanctuary ordinance then was improper because “the passage of any ordinance” requires a vote of a majority of the entire Council, or four votes, thus disqualifying the favorable vote on Dec. 19. Now the issue was back before the Jan. 9 Council meeting.
“We don’t answer questions during public comment,” Krakowiak told Levine when she asked if the Council would be voting on the document that specified “sanctuary city” or the one that did not use the term “sanctuary.” Again, Krakowiak said Council did not answer questions during comment periods. Levine said she strongly supported “sanctuary.”
The original ordinance said it was to “adopt an ordinance declaring the City of Burien a sanctuary city,” but that wording was deleted from the one adopted Monday night. Burien would not be a declared “sanctuary city” but one that would “foster trust and cooperation between city personnel and law enforcement officers…”
The word “sanctuary” is not in the new ordinance version because, as Councilmember Nancy Tosta said the term it is not a legal term – “it has different meanings to different people.”
Some other changes were made because the original proposal came from King County ordinances “that are not particularly pertinent” (download PDF of the revised ordinance here).
Some have suggested that President-elect Donald Trump has said he would cut off federal funds to cities with sanctuary status, but others suggest this is unlikely due to various federal court decisions, some of which suggest that “across the board” cuts are not allowed and the only grant cuts that would be allowed would be for specific reasons.
As usual not in person, but by telephone, Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz wanted to add that no city officers could question a person’s religious background. She said she was seeking a compromise from her original push to adopt a stronger sanctuary ordinance such as in effect in San Francisco, but the Council rejected that approach.
Her new section said the city can’t “collect information” that would classify “any person on the basis of religious affiliation” but city officials, including police, would accept and use “information that is voluntarily provided, including relating to the decennial census.”
“It’s a step forward,” she said.
Councilmember Austin Bell asked City Attorney Lisa Marshall if Berkowitz’s changes caused any legal problems and Marshall said there was no reason the Council should not pass the additions if they wanted them.
Tosta, who had agreed with Berkowitz’s additions, said, “This is the vision of Burien,” to be inclusive.
The Council should do “whatever we can to decrease the fear which has permeated our country.”
Burien can’t provide enough police to guard against the current increase in crime “that we are continuing to experience,” Tosta said. One way is to have community engagement, she added.
Councilmember Stephen Armstrong said the amended ordinance “strengthens our position in our policies,” and “is a “step forward…”
Implies false hope
Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar “really questioned why we are writing something already covered” and said the Berkowitz “feel good ordinance” could “imply false hope” because it can’t guard against fear of families that could be broken up by enforcement of immigration laws, or it cannot decrease crime.
Edgar said the safety people were seeking would be “better provided by police and cannot be provided just by passing this ordinance,” adding that those pushing this ordinance also were opposed to increasing police staffing.
Mayor Krakowiak said she echoed Edgar’s comments.
Councilmember Debi Wagner said she was comfortable that Burien Police have the situation under control and, without the ordinance, does not ask immigration status questions.
If people in our community do not already feel safe, “our feel good ordinance is not going to make any difference,” Wagner said.
Most speakers supported the fact that the city would never ask people about their citizenship or the lack of it. That has been the practice followed by the King County Sheriff’s Office for the past 20 or so years, which county deputies are contracted for by Burien to form its police department.
Some, however, said the nation is a place of laws and not being a citizen or a legal immigrant is “breaking the law” in the words of one woman. Others said it was a problem of racism to check immigration status.
— SEIU Local 925 (@SEIU925) January 10, 2017
— Christy Krispin (@ChristyKrispin) January 10, 2017
— SEIU Local 925 (@SEIU925) January 10, 2017