Burien Passes Sanctuary City Ordinance 651

Both sides of the issue are presented at city council meeting

On January 9, the Burien City Council voted to pass Ordinance 651 which prevents police officers and city officials or staff from asking a person their immigration status.

Councilmembers Nancy Tosta, Lauren Berkowitz, Steve Armstrong and Austin Bell supported the measure. Mayor Lucy Krakowiak, Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar and Councilmember Debi Wagner were opposed.

The discussion and vote took place after a previous meeting on December 19th when the measure was passed by a 3-2 vote. However, it was determined a few days later that this vote was illegitimate because it did not have a four-vote majority of the City Council in support of the measure, due to Krakowiak and Edgar leaving the meeting early before the vote at 10:30 p.m.

The sanctuary city status has become a hot topic after the U.S. presidential election, especially in cities like Burien. According to information on the City of Burien website, about forty percent of the Burien population is non-white, and some residents are worried about President-elect Donald Trump’s policies effecting their residency in the United States.

The term ‘sanctuary city’ “has generally been accepted to mean that local law enforcement and municipalities will not alert federal authorities about people in their cities who lack legal status, nor will municipalities actively seek out such individuals,” according to a document written by City Attorney Lisa Marshall.

Many sanctuary cities exist nationwide, including Olympia, which became a sanctuary city last month.

Marshall addressed the reasons for a city to declare itself a sanctuary: because enforcing immigration falls to the federal, not local, government; immigration detainers without cause have been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts; local law enforcement wants to encourage crime reporting by removing fear of deportation; and communities want to provide services to all residents - whether living in the U.S. with or without legal papers.

The Burien Police Department - which uses employees from the King County Sheriff’s Office - already has a policy in place that police officers cannot inquire about one’s immigration status. This has been in place since 1992.

The Los Angeles Police Department and many other police departments nationwide have similar policies.

Ordinance 651 effectively reemphasizes the policy enforced by the King County Sheriff’s Office and extends the policy to officials, employees and contractors within the City of Burien.

Many community members shared their opinions on the ordinance during the public comments section of the January 9th meeting.

“We think that everyone should be able to live and thrive comfortably without fearing that they could be separated from their families,” Melina Carranza, volunteer with Para los Niños, said. While she spoke, her friends stood behind here raising signs that read “stop separating families.”

“I want to raise my child in a better world,” said Abigail Marín, who moved to the United States two years ago and has a child who is a U.S. citizen. She said that people had been welcoming to her in Burien.

Others spoke to the difficulties of obtaining legal immigration papers.

A large number of the public comments were in opposition to the ordinance.

“I’m sorry, but being here illegally is already, in my mind, breaking the law,” Burien resident Jill Pullman said.

Some Burien residents claimed the ordinance was redundant, because the police were already forbidden to inquire about one’s immigration status..

“It’s unfortunate that we have a city council that wastes the time and resources of Burien,” Darla Green, Burien business owner, said. Green added that the ordinance was “baseless and useless” and that sanctuary city was a “politically correct term.”

After the public comments section, the city council spoke on the subject.

The measure discussed in the December meeting had the objective of making Burien a sanctuary city, but on the January 9th meeting, Tosta amended ordinance amended to remove the terminology of ‘sanctuary city’ from the measure.

According to Tosta, ‘sanctuary city’ is “not a legal term, it has different meanings to different people.”

Tosta said that the goals of the ordinance are to establish trust and cooperation between the community and law enforcement, to increase crime prevention and public safety, and to promote public health.

“We’ve had a lot of misinformation that’s come out around this,” Tosta said during the meeting, as she dispelled common perceptions about the ordinance and said there was no risk for an increase in crime, no change in procedure for prosecuting criminals and - according to City Attorney Lisa Marshall - low risk for the removal of federal funding.

Berkowitz added an amendment to the ordinance that stated that no one would be able to inquire about one’s religious affiliation or establish the information into a database.

Berkowitz’s amendment passed in a 4 to 3 vote, with Councilmembers Armstrong, Bell, Berkowitz and Tosta in support, and Councilmembers Krakowiak, Edgar and Wagner in opposition.

The council then discussed the main motion.

“It cannot calm fears or bring down paranoia if we pass this,” Edgar said. “It cannot provide refugee or asylum status, it cannot assure that a person will not be deported, it cannot protect against fear of a family being broken up, it cannot clean the air and help us have a safer Burien, it cannot reduce crime.”

Edgar pointed out that the councilmembers arguing for passing the ordinance were the same councilmembers who argued against increasing the budget for police.

“I don’t want to restrict or put any new rules or caveats on what [the police] do, which they do well,” Wagner said. “If people in our community haven’t already known that they are safe with the policies of the police force then our feel-good ordinance is not going to make any difference in that communication level.”

Wagner added that she had promised to vote against the ordinance to a man who said he had been called a racist, and that she didn’t want to encourage that kind of “anger or hostility.”

Ultimately, the ordinance passed.

“This is what we strive for,” Tosta said. “To be inclusive, to be diverse, and respect each other in this context.”

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.