Immigrants are our neighbors, customers and small business owners. Immigrants in our community support our local economy as consumers and taxpayers. Seattle has a rich diversity of immigrant communities: 129 languages are spoken in Seattle schools and more than 113,000 immigrants and refugees live in our city, including approximately 20,000 undocumented immigrants. We have a shared responsibility as a community to protect and defend our immigrant neighbors from oppressive anti-immigration policies, especially under the Trump administration.
Seattle is already leading the nation on a number of policy fronts to protect immigrants in our community. However, in the Trump era, many of Seattle’s “sanctuary city” policies represent the minimum, not the standard that we should uphold. We must expand our idea of a “sanctuary city” to better protect our immigrant neighbors.
My immigration platform would strengthen existing policies like the immigrant legal defense fund, decriminalize certain non-violent offenses to reduce the impact of mass incarceration on low-income communities and communities of color, as well as limit the likelihood undocumented immigrants come into contact with the federal government, protect transgender immigrants from abuse by police and immigration enforcement, and expand the right to vote in local elections to noncitizens.
Strengthen Existing Policies
Seattle is currently defined as a “sanctuary city” on the sole basis of a 2003 ordinance that bars city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. I believe we can and should greatly build on that definition to better protect immigrants in our community. Immigrants in our community should be able to work and care for their families with the assurance that their basic rights are protected by the full force of law.
The Welcoming City Resolution passed in early 2017 represents a number of best practices for sanctuary cities; however, the recommendations included in the resolution are non-binding. To protect immigrants in Seattle, we must pass a strong ordinance that includes rejecting Section 287(g) agreements with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement and refusing to participate in any sort of Muslim registry or surveillance. Additionally, the resolution directs city officials to defer detainer requests to King County, who manage jails; we must require this to happen (King County prevents honoring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers unless such detainers are accompanied by a specific criminal warrant).
If Seattle is to truly be a sanctuary city, we should not use any city resources to aid federal immigration enforcement and pass explicit policies that prohibit federal access to city resources for the purpose of any sort of registry or surveillance. This includes 1) explicitly barring the use of city funding, facilities, equipment, personnel and other resources for immigration enforcement purposes or assisting immigration enforcement; 2) barring use of city moneys, facilities, property, equipment, personnel or other resources to assist in the investigation or enforcement of any federal program requiring registration of individuals on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or national/ethnic origin and; 3) barring the Department of Homeland Security and sub-agencies access to city databases that include information that are directly linked to an individual and identify a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, or national or ethnic origin.
Seattle has also recently passed a $1 million legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants. I support this fund, and would support increasing funding to increase representation for more non-citizens. The current funding level is only sufficient to represent up to 200 people yet Seattle’s immigration court has more than 7,000 pending cases. Undocumented immigrants do not have a federally protected right to representation in immigration court and many lack the resources to hire private attorneys. Over 90% of people tried in Washington’s immigration court do not have legal representation. This is a violation of the basic principles of due process and equity, and I believe we should do everything we can at the local level to amend this failure of justice. According to the American Immigration Council, detained undocumented immigrants are more than 10 times more likely to be able to stay in the country, united with their families, if they have with representation. We should also ensure that this legal fund will use a universal representation model, where representation is not limited and all immigrants receive due process through representation in immigration court.
Finally, we need to ban the use of “E-verify” in Seattle. E-Verify is a punitive program that makes in undocumented immigrants vulnerable to abuse from employers that take advantage of their status. We’re proud that the Seattle’s city government has refused to use the program for its own hiring. Now, we must extend that practice to all employers in the city.
Prioritize Decriminalization and Diversion Policies
It is an undeniable, empirical, fact that immigrant communities commit fewer crimesthan native born U.S, Citizens. That said, Seattle can demonstrate solidarity with our undocumented immigrant neighbors by decriminalizing certain non-violent offenses and investing in diversion programs that do not lead to unnecessary arrests, minimize jail exposure where ICE can locate and detain individuals, and reduce involvement in the justice system in favor of more effective community-based alternatives.
Even when police are not actively collaborating with federal immigration enforcement, they remain a primary funnel to deportation for immigrants who end up in removal proceedings. Arresting and incarcerating undocumented immigrants puts them on a fast track to ICE detention. In the Pacific Northwest, ICE arrests have increased by 33% compared to the same time last year and the number of those arrested with no criminal history went up a shocking 360%
Part of a decriminalization agenda requires change of the maximum sentence for misdemeanors. Under federal immigration law, sentences of 180 days or greater may constitute a “crime of moral turpitude” and put immigrants at greater risk for deportation. To protect our neighbors, we should make the maximum sentence for misdemeanors under Seattle Municipal Code 180 days, providing the possibility for exceptions under specific circumstances if sought by prosecutors and determined by a judge.
With an appropriate investment in effective, community based diversion programs, we can provide alternatives to sentences that make immigrants vulnerable to deportation. My criminal justice reform policy explains in detail how we can invest our public safety resources in community-based, harm-reduction solutions. We should expand programs like safe consumption sites and the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD program), as well as explore alternative forms of accountability for crimes of poverty.
Protect Transgender Immigrants
Transgender immigrants are a vulnerable population put in an even more precarious position by an unjust immigration system. Transgender immigrants, especially transgender women, are at extreme risk of physical and sexual assault in immigrant detention centers. Many transgender women are placed in solitary confinement or incorrectly held in men’s detention centers. Transgender women are often denied prompt access to appropriate medical care, or denied it all together.
We should protect transgender immigrants by adopting and enforcing directives against profiling based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, immigration status, housing, HIV status or age. Additionally, we should demand respectful treatment of transgender people by local law enforcement, including requiring officials to use language that respects individuals’ gender identity.
Right to Vote in Municipal Elections
Everyone in Seattle who pays taxes should have a say in how those taxes are spent. Given the large population of immigrants and refugees in Seattle, it is unjust that we deny the franchise to so many of our neighbors. I support the right of noncitizens to vote in municipal elections. Contrary to popular belief, eligibility to vote in local elections is a matter of state law, not the Constitution. Already, other jurisdictions like Takoma Park, Maryland, allow noncitizens to vote. Today the new Democracy Voucher program is giving a voice to immigrants and citizens alike in City Council elections. We can build on the infrastructure created by the Democracy Voucher program to create the right for all residents to vote in municipal elections.