Washington-Sanctuary State

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks in Olympia, Wash., on May 13, 2019. A few days later, Washington became the latest West Coast state to enact broad sanctuary protections that restrict all local authorities from asking about people's immigration status. Inslee signed the measure on May 21, 2019.

Yakima will review federal funding obligations and may have to make minor adjustments to its law enforcement policies based on a new Washington civil rights law.

The Keep Washington Working Act, signed May 21 by Gov. Jay Inslee, emphasizes that the state will not play an active role in helping government officials remove immigrants from the United States.

The act prohibits state agencies from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement efforts. State and local agents will not be able to ask anyone about their immigration status unless the inquiry is directly tied to a criminal investigation.

The act notes that one of every seven people in Washington is an immigrant, that immigrants make up 16 percent of the state’s workforce and that 15 percent of the state’s business owners were born outside the United States.

“Immigrants make a significant contribution to the economic vitality of this state, and it is essential that the state have policies that recognize their importance to Washington’s economy,” the act notes.

The act also has several dictates for local law enforcement, noting that local officers are not responsible for enforcing federal immigration law:

  • It stops the spread of local jails holding immigrant detainees for federal immigration agents.
  • It says federal agents can’t interview detainees held on noncriminal matters unless detainees sign a consent form.
  • It prohibits local law enforcement from transferring individuals for federal immigration authorities.
  • It prohibits local law enforcement agents from detaining, arresting or denying services to individuals based solely on their immigration status.

The state attorney general must publish model policies for limiting immigration enforcement at state facilities within the next year.

City Manager Cliff Moore said in a memo to the Yakima City Council that city staff will have time to watch the requirements progress and evaluate potential impacts on the local policies.

“Once the model rules have been prepared by the attorney general, we will have a better idea of more specific requirements the city may need to address,” Moore said.

“The greatest effects the act would appear to have for the city pertain to the city’s ability to apply for and receive federal grant funds and to enter federal contracts that benefit the city, the latter primarily as they apply to cooperative law enforcement efforts,” he added.

Yakima’s sanctuary city history

In March 2017, Councilwomen Carmen Mendez and Dulce Gutierrez proposed a public safety policy in which local police would not ask people about their immigration status. The council ultimately rejected the proposal.

The council previously considered becoming a sanctuary city, but discussions ended with a 4-2 vote against doing so in April 2017. Holly Cousens, Kathy Coffey, Bill Lover and Maureen Adkison cast the four deciding votes.

Lover and Adkison are no longer on the council.

The Yakima County jail has a longstanding contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain individuals in federal custody. But in February, Yakima County stopped holding inmates for immigration authorities after they became eligible for release.

The change was part of a settlement negotiated by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services.

McCormick Air Center at the Yakima airport agreed to service ICE charter flights to transport undocumented immigrants beginning May 7. The City Council voted not to adopt a resolution similar to the one adopted by King County, which prohibited the flights.

Moore referenced about $19 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants, to be used for airport improvements, during council discussions about the ICE-chartered flights. He noted that not servicing federally chartered flights could result in the loss of that funding or the need to pay it back.

Reactions

Moore said the city will be assessing all existing federal grants and contracts to determine if the Keep Washington Working Act’s requirements conflict with them, including transit grants, federal highway grants, housing grants and law enforcement grants.

The city already is complying with most of the requirements for local law enforcement identified in the act, Moore said, but would likely have to create some new paperwork.

“The city will need to create a consent form consistent with the act’s direction that will advise prospective interviewees of their right to refuse the interview if they do not consent to an interview taking place,” he said.

Moore wrote that he does not anticipate any significant impacts on city operations.

“We shall continue to investigate the impact potentials and monitor the contracts, grants and agreements the city has with federal agencies to identify and address any issues that may become relevant,” he said.

The Yakima Immigrant Response Network released the following statement upon passage of the act:

“All in all, the law works to make sure that the state of Washington plays no role in federal immigration enforcement, which will likely reduce the amount of people who are deported every year, among those who are not convicted of any crimes,” the network noted on its website.

ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman noted that federal immigration agents are following the law when they do their jobs.

“We as federal employees, we’ve taken an oath as well. We are only doing the duty that we swore to do,” she said. “These laws are made and upheld by Congress, so I would say to the public that if you don’t agree with the laws, then you need to change them.”

Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont also have in place policies against collaboration with local and federal law enforcement for noncriminal immigration investigations.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.