Washington state has emerged as the epicenter for resistance against Trump’s immigration ban, which has only been manipulated since the initial ban on Jan. 27. First, Washington state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, filed a lawsuit against Trump. Then, federal Judge James Robart, who hails from Seattle, temporarily blocked enforcement of the ban on entry to the United States. The opposition has further localized in Seattle with Mayor Ed Murray’s declaration that Seattle would remain a sanctuary city despite Trump’s threat of pulling federal funding.
Robart’s order to halt Trump’s immigration ban was hailed as revolutionary and first-of-its-kind because it was filed on behalf of the entire state of Washington. In similar rulings before Robart’s, the plaintiff of the case was an individual seeking relief from the effects of the ban, but in Robart’s temporary block, the plaintiff was the state itself. His order drew upon the principle of “Parens Patriae,” a legal concept which basically says the state can sue as if it is the parent of its citizens.
“We have to prove that this ban causes irreparable harm to us as a state,” said Arzoo Osanloo, an associate professor in the law, societies, and justice program and the director of the UW’s Middle East Center. “Not just our businesses, but our sense of who we are as a community.”
But why has the resistance centralized in Washington, and concentrated in Seattle? We’d like to attribute it to our big, liberal hearts, but the truth is that Washington state, and Seattle in particular, benefit substantially from the integration of immigrants and refugees into our economy.
While Robart’s ban is protecting human rights in a new and revolutionary way, it’s also protecting the capital held in the presence of immigrants. It’s no secret that Seattle-area tech companies employ thousands using the H1-B visa, which allows skilled, graduate-level immigrants to live and work in the United States. Microsoft alone has nearly 5,000 employees using the program.
Not only does Seattle benefit from the immigrant workforce, but Washington state’s GDP would increase substantially by allowing currently undocumented immigrants to become citizens. According to an analysis by Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford of the Center for American Progress, naturalizing each of Washington’s 250,000 undocumented immigrants would grow the state’s GDP by $31.5 billion over 10 years.
By no means is this a bad thing — economic autonomy is the foundation for sanctuary cities’ independence from federal immigration policies. At its core, a sanctuary city — behind the values of hospitality and equality — is dependent on economic autonomy from the nation.
Seattle’s current take on sanctuary city policy is a rather watered-down version of the concept.
“What sanctuary means is that we, the state of Washington, California, or wherever, will not afford our state police officers to take information about someone’s status and offer it to federal enforcement,” Osanloo said. “And that’s all they’re saying. What it doesn’t mean is that we’re not going to cooperate with federal immigration officials.”
But the theory of sanctuary city policy extends far beyond this. In his book, “On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness,” French philosopher Jacques Derrida describes “cities of refuge” as autonomous bodies willing and able to provide hospitality to foreigners regardless of the national government’s attitude toward accepting refugees.
In order for Seattle, or other cities claiming to offer sanctuary, to truly become safe spaces for undocumented immigrants and refugees, we would need to move beyond our “don’t ask don’t tell” immigration policy to a higher level of autonomy from federal practices.
According to Columbia University sociology professor Saskia Sassen, who studies globalization and international human migration, economic globalization is one way that cities can rise above national sovereignty. In her book, “Whose City is It? Globalization and the Formation of New Claims,” Sassen explains that global markets operate through a regulatory umbrella that is not nation-centered, but market-centered, which allows global cities a level of autonomy from the state.
As Seattle’s tech industry continues to grow and becomes increasingly global, it could theoretically pave the path to create a true sanctuary city. If this city is to be a safe place for immigrants and refugees as Mayor Murray claims, it must provide hospitality to foreigners regardless of the national government’s attitude. The economic benefit of preventing immigrant workers from being deported through legal actions such as Robart’s is just one step in the right direction.
Reach writer Julia-Grace Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Sanders_Julia