“Welcoming City” resolution passes

This afternoon the City Council unanimously passed a resolution that affirms Seattle’s status as a welcoming city for all, regardless of immigration status.

This isn’t just a feel-good resolution; it lists a number of very specific actions and policies for the city.

It states that the city will refuse to enter into a so-called Section 287(g) agreement under the Immigration and Nationality Act that would delegate immigration enforcement to local law enforcement.  It is settled law that the federal government holds responsibility to enforce federal laws, and that it cannot force state and local law-enforcement groups to enforce those laws. It can create an opportunity for voluntary agreements, such as the Section 287(g) program, but it’s entirely within Seattle’s right to refuse to enter such an agreement.

As we saw last Saturday evening at Sea-Tac Airport, however, SPD officers sometimes are asked to assist other local police forces through “mutual aid” agreements. That creates an awkward situation if SPD is asked to assist a neighbor city’s police force that has signed a 287(g) agreement with the federal government, or if their officers come to SPD’s assistance. To that end, the resolution asks SPD to file a report with the City Council by February 15th that includes:

  • a copy of all mutual aid agreements SPD has entered;
  • a list of which of those partner police departments have signed Section 287(g) agreements;
  • proposed amendments to mutual aid agreements for those jurisdictions that have not explicitly rejected entering a Section 287(g) agreement. The goal of the amendments would be to reconcile Seattle’s and SPD’s goal of not enforcing civil immigration law violations.

The resolution also re-commits to the city’s policy to defer “detainer requests” from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department to King County. This is a tricky bit of law: improper entry into the United States is a criminal offense, but unlawful presence is a civil offense and SPD doesn’t have the authority to hold or charge individuals for federal civil offenses  (since it hasn’t signed a Section 287(g) agreement). Sometimes when a person is arrested by local authorities for a crime and the feds hear about it (through routine channels), if they have reason to suspect that the person is in the country illegally they might make a “detainer” request, in effect asking the local cops to hold the person until ICE can arrive there to take custody of them. But since the locals have no authority to hold someone for federal civil law violations, acting on the detainer request would violate the law.  And since jails here are in King County’s jurisdiction and control, not the City of Seattle’s, the city’s practice is simply to defer all federal detainer requests to King County unless they are accompanied by a criminal arrest warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate.

The resolution reiterates the city’s existing policy that city employees are prohibited from asking about a person’s immigration status, and extends it to say that  any immigration status information that is inadvertently disclosed  should not be recorded and should be handled as confidential and sensitive information as per the city’s privacy principles.

The resolution also commits the City and its legal resources to “resist any efforts to impose on the City any immigration, spending or funding policy that violates the U.S. Constitution and the Laws of the United States.” It also says that Seattle will “challenge any unconstitutional policies that threaten the security of its communities,” and that the City “will not cooperate or assist with any unconstitutional registration or surveillance programs or any other unconstitutional or illegal laws, rules or policies targeted at those of the Muslim faith and/or of Middle Eastern descent.”

It commits the Office for Civil Rights to conducting  an outreach campaign and a hotline for illegal discrimination and harassment in housing, employment, public accommodations and contraction. It also rejects “any effort to criminalize or attack the Black Lives Matter social justice movement or any other social justice movement that seeks to address inequalities, inequities and disparities present in Seattle.”

The resolution directs the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, the Department of Education and Early Learning, and the Human Services Department to “develop a proposal for assisting children and families associated with Seattle Public Schools affected by federal policies directed at immigrants and refugees.” $250,000 is allocated in the city’s budget for this purpose.

Finally, it creates an Inclusive and Equitable City Cabinet, with representatives from seven city departments, to “advise the Mayor and/or City on how to best coordinate City efforts to protect the civil liberties and civil rights of all Seattle residents and provide supportive services and information” to targeted and underserved groups.

There are a handful of other items in the resolution, but those are the main items.

A large crowd showed up at City Hall today to speak in support of the resolution, and Council member Gonzalez, the sponsor, gave a fiery and eloquent speech just before the Council voted 9-0 to approve it.