By Jack Mayne For a majority of its three and one-half hour meeting on Monday night (Dec. 5), the Burien City Council heard residents comment on a proposal by three Councilmembers to declare it a ‘sanctuary city’ with the idea of protecting “illegal” or undocumented immigrants. The ‘sanctuary city’ status is similar to the one created by the Seattle City Council and many other local jurisdictions around the nation. Such a status would prevent local police and other officials from assisting federal officers working to deport undocumented aliens as threatened by President-elect Donald Trump. Councilmembers Lauren Berkowitz, Nancy Tosta and Austin Bell pushed the proposal onto the Council agenda. In the Council agenda, City Attorney Lisa Marshall said Burien does not have such an ordinance (see screenshot here). There also was no proposed ordinance creating such a sanctuary city before the Council, merely a request for discussion of the issue by the three Councilmembers. The Council asked that Acting City Manager Tony Piasecki and Marshall come back with a proposal for consideration at the Dec. 19 meeting. ‘Don’t ask’ status That has been a policy of the Burien Police Department for many years, whose officers are members of the King County Sheriffs Office. Officers do not to inquire about a person’s immigration status, said Sheriff John Urquhart. “First of all, the Sheriff’s office has had a written policy for at least the past 25 years that deputies are not allowed to ask someone for their immigration status,” so sworn deputies, cannot ask for a green card, or other documents. Burien Police are sworn King County deputies since the city contracts for police from King County. The sheriff said deputies may use immigration documents if the documents are offered by the person upon if asked something like, “may I see some identification?” “I have no intention of changing what we do – or don’t do – with the election of Donald Trump. I would add that LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) has had a similar policy since 1979, as do many police departments. “As we have always done, we will continue to notify Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) if we learn of a dangerous criminal in our midst, that we believe may have entered the county illegally,” Urquhart said. “By ‘dangerous’ I mean a gang member, rapist, murder, major drug dealer, that sort of thing.” SeaTac also contract for police services from King County so the same police will be in place in that city. Police chiefs of Des Moines and Normandy Park say they have similar policies. County could change law Berkowitz, as usual on the telephone from home, said creation of a sanctuary city would reinforce the view that the city did not want police to enforce federal immigration laws and that the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over King County deputies, only jurisdiction over Burien ordinances. “The policy could be changed tomorrow and moreover, we have no control over King County policies,” she said. “That is why Burien needs its own ordinances to make sure that whatever the sheriff’s policies are, Burien is actually requiring them to follow the values” of the city. Berkowitz said a city ordinance would apply to contractors with the city, the CARES animal agency and all city municipal employees who might accidentally or involuntarily provide information harmful to undocumented residents. Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar, who took over as presiding officer when Mayor Lucy Krakowiak left the meeting just after 10 p.m. – before leaving the meeting himself shortly thereafter – asked Police Chief Scott Kimerer when the policy against enforcing federal immigration laws took effect and was told 1992. “It is not only a policy we have in the Sheriff’s office, but it is a fundamental belief that we all have, and me, as the leader of the police department, have that we need to be inclusive in our community, we need to embrace our community, we need help from the community and that is not always the easiest thing to do, especially with the diversity we have here. We have to build an atmosphere of trust and part of that trust is not only following this policy, but really believing in this policy,” Kimerer said. “It does not take much, and we don’t want to break that trust” with immigrants, especially the Latino populations of Burien, Kimerer added. [caption id="attachment_106964" align="alignright" width="215"]Burien City Council debates ‘sanctuary city' idea; plus – take our Poll 2 Katie Hiedeman[/caption] Several residents favor sanctuary Resident Katie Hiedeman acknowledged that city police had a policy through the Sheriff’s department, but “that it would be an opportunity to formalize the policy as a city ordinance.” She said such an ordinance is not just symbolic because it would show “Burien’s commitment to uphold civil rights and basic human decency,” adding that the immigrant community relies on police services “as all residents do.” She added that without an ordinance, many of the undocumented aliens might not cooperate or communicate with police over potential disputes, “making our community more unsafe.” “As a resident, I am here to strongly encourage the mayor and the Council to consider adopting an ordinance to prohibit the city police employees from inquiring into the immigration of a person, as well as prohibiting the police and employees from participating in any activities that are the federal government’s responsibility.” Hiedeman, over the time limit and told my Mayor Krakowiak to wrap it up, said elected officials should stand with “all of our community” by adopting the ordinance. Margarita Suarez said she was an émigré from Cuba and an American citizen who served as an army nurse in Vietnam and has lived in Burien since 1992. “I know it is controversial to have a sanctuary city,” but she wanted to support it. “It promotes safe and respectful relationship with members of the immigrant community and the local police…” and encourages people to work with police “without fear of deportation.” She quoted Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole as saying, “It is important that the most vulnerable people know they can trust the local police.” Irene Danish said that despite the policy by the police, an ordinance “would make this policy clearer.” [caption id="attachment_106963" align="alignleft" width="220"]Burien City Council debates ‘sanctuary city' idea; plus – take our Poll 3 Oksana Bilobran[/caption] Need to be welcoming Oksana Bilobran said she was a practicing immigration attorney and an immigrant herself who works with immigrants and refugees and sees the outcome of the presidential election “already playing out in a way we probably didn’t predict – we see way more harassment, physical assault” and supported a city sanctuary ordinance, “although there is not a clear definition of what a sanctuary city is … but I want us to send a clear message that the City of Burien is a welcoming community.” Bilobran said becoming a sanctuary city would not attract or protect the criminal elements – “that is not how the immigration system works … we do have federal agencies responsible … and no one is going to dismantle those agencies.” Those agencies will still be doing its work and did not need the local police to assist. “We want that message to be heard and clear in the community,” she said. At the end of the meeting, Tosta said that citizens want the Council to express the same beliefs as the Sheriff’s Department policy. “We know that we live in a different time right now and it seems more important than ever to emphasize this, to reaffirm that we respect all the citizens of our community,” Tosta said. Tosta said she would look to city staff, especially the city attorney, to decide the best way to reinforce the Sheriff’s policies on not handling immigration law problems, whether it is a sanctuary city ordinance or just a policy resolution. Councilmember Debi Wagner said she had heard that the Trump administration would consider withholding federal funds from any city that did declare it a sanctuary city, but such decisions would have to be made after the new president is sworn into office on January 20. TAKE OUR POLL: What do YOU think of the idea of Burien declaring itself a ‘sanctuary city’? Please take our Poll below, or leave a Comment: [poll id=”91″]

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read a part of the council packet that includes an article from The Economist on what a sanctuary city is, click here (right click and ‘Save As’ to download).