On Oct. 19, a U.S. District Court judge filed a ruling denying President Donald Trump’s executive order, which stated the federal government could withhold federal grants from jurisdictions refusing to comply with immigration laws.
In a nation that glamorizes its history of immigration and the image of Ellis Island cozying up to the Statue of Liberty, today’s tensions challenge this self-made identity and reveal the core of our identity as a nation of immigrants.
The recent order
“The Executive Order fails to provide an adequate nexus between its immigration-related enforcement conditions and grants of funds, especially in light of evidence that Plaintiffs require federal funding for various essentials unrelated to immigration, including infrastructure, healthcare, and affordable housing,” Judge Richard A. Jones said in his official response to the executive order.
The order was built on a previously filed suit by the cities of Seattle and Portland, again in response to President Trump’s claim to withhold federal funding from the cities unless they complied with federal immigration laws.
“Don’t ask” policy
Cities like Seattle may state that they will not actively cooperate with the federal government to enforce immigration laws on a local level. This decision is legal.
“It’s full within the right of local government not to comply,” said Angelica Chazaro, an associate professor at the UW School of Law.
Chazaro said these tensions proceed the current administration, going back to around 15 years ago when the federal government tried to recruit local law enforcement to implement federal immigration laws.
The reaction from local law enforcement was minimal. Some cities began using the label “sanctuary cities” to self-describe their hands-off policy to federal immigration law enforcement.
But this didn’t ensure they were actively creating policies that protected the rights of undocumented immigrants and refugees. Instead, they could choose not to assist U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) in targeting and deporting undocumented immigrants.
“ICE themselves has admitted that they can’t force local law enforcement to cooperate,” Chazaro said.
The definition of sanctuary cities
“Sanctuary cities” decide they will not help the federal government to enforce immigration law.
But this doesn’t ensure that targeting and racial profiling doesn’t occur, with undocumented immigrants being arrested for petty laws, convicted, and then flushed through the misdemeanor system.
And for the undocumented worker who may have been detained and released for operating a vending cart without a permit, there is the very real fear that there will be an ICE officer waiting on the outside of the door.
Once identified, there little hope of sanctuary.
Where Seattle fits in
On Jan. 30, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution which reaffirmed Seattle’s status as a welcoming city.
Part of this affirmation included a section stating that the Seattle Police Department would focus on ensuring all residents of the city would be protected and safe, and that the police department would not be used as “de facto immigration officers.”
It was a step forward. City employees are to defer detainer requests to King County and the word “citizen” was opted out in favor of “resident,” which is more inclusive.
In response to the resolution the city created a legal defense fund, which provides free legal defense to residents facing deportation, detention, live in Seattle or King County, and have a household income below 200 percent of the poverty line. These services are provided through the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, and Kids in Need of Defense.
Where the welcome gets real
The reality of living in any city can be stressful for immigrant and refugee communities in Seattle, but the fear that the city will change its stance on immigration policies has increased in the in the last year. The Seattle-based Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWa) has served to address these concerns through targeted services, education and programs.
“We’re really paying attention to the travel ban,” said Wendi Lindquist, a ReWa development and communications officer, noting that these concerns are also being expressed by clients who have documented status.
Clients have also been concerned that they may be targeted when accessing services.
According to Lindquist, the organization has been fortunate to be supported by local government, one which has verbally embraced its status as a welcoming city.
The nonprofit currently receives funding from the city, county, state, and federal government. The executive director also meets with politicians and city council members to advocate for the immigrant communities that the organization serves.
This brings up the question of what the reality is of living in a sanctuary city as an immigrant — documented or not. Beyond the lingo, the slogan and the official status, Seattle will have to live up to its rhetoric. This includes ensuring that the city does not merely verbally oppose federal immigration law enforcement at a local level, but creates a city that is safe where immigrants can thrive.
Reach writer Hannah Pickering at email@example.com. Twitter: Hannah_95