The Burien City Council nearly designated itself a sanctuary city, meaning that law enforcement and city personnel would not ask people about their citizenship or immigration status.
Burien residents requested the ordinance earlier this year in response to the election of Donald Trump, whose campaign for president was marked by his tough stance on immigrants, who he argued included rapists and drug dealers.
The ordinance was passed with a majority vote among five of the seven Burien City Council members present at a Dec. 19 meeting, but state law requires a majority of the full seven-member council in order to pass.
Burien is just the latest in a number of local governments considering its relationship with federal immigration enforcement and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
A handful of cities around King County are considering ordinances that would replicate those passed by the Seattle City Council and the King County Council, which essentially state that the city and county staff and law enforcement will not ask people for their immigration status at any point.
The city of Olympia passed a resolution stating its own status as a sanctuary city, but in Burien, residents an enforceable ordinance.
While cities such as Burien have a heightened interest in this subject following the presidential election, the question has been on people’s minds for years.
Jim Doherty, a legal analyst, works at the Municipal Research and Services Center, a non-partisan organization that supports elected officials across Washington. He said the agency has received requests for information about sanctuary city ordinances going back to 2011, some from elected officials considering adopting such ordinances and some from elected officials who do not want to see such measures passed.
Burien City Manager Tony Piasecki said residents in the city’s neighbor to the south, Des Moines, are pursuing a similar ordinance there. Piasecki was formerly the city manager of Des Moines.
In Burien, the effort was also driven by citizen input. A number of residents approached the Burien City Council requesting to pass some sort of ordinance that would bar city staff and law enforcement from inquiring into people’s immigration status.
The ordinance would mean that city of Burien personnel could not request documents or inquire about a person’s civil immigration status, including passports and work permits. It would require the city to scrub any questions on applications, questionnaires or interview forms of anything requesting disclosure of someone’s citizenship or immigration status.
On Dec. 19, the Burien City Council considered the ordinance before a packed house, where the proponents outweighed opponents significantly.
Sandra Aguila, a Burien resident and Highline School District teacher, said this was an essential step to make her students feel welcome and safe in the community. Aguila herself came to the U.S. through the sanctuary movement in the 1980s, when churches welcomed Central American refugees inside their walls and offered them safe sanctuary.
Aguila stayed at a Quaker congregation in the University District. Today, she’s advocating for the safety of immigrants in her adopted country, especially her students.
“I don’t care what religion they are, color, immigration status,” she said. “I will serve my students wherever they come from.”
Some opponents of the ordinance equated immigration to drug use and crime in the community. Others argued that the law was unnecessary because the King County Sheriff’s Office manages Burien’s law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office is already barred from inquiring into people’s immigration status.
Because of the King County rules, Darla Green, a Burien business owner who ran for the City Council in 2015, called the Burien ordinance “baseless pandering.”
Burien councilmembers present at the meeting thought they had passed the ordinance in a 3-to-2 vote. Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar left the meeting at its scheduled 10 p.m. end time before the vote, but the remaining five councilmembers voted to continue the meeting until 10:30 p.m.
Councilmembers Austin Bell, Lauren Berkowitz and Nancy Tosta voted in favor of the ordinance. But the following Wednesday, the city attorney informed the council that the ordinance could not be put into law, because Burien requires a majority of the whole council, not simply a majority of those present for the votes.
Regardless of who is present at Burien City Council meetings, four members must vote to pass this ordinance.
Doherty at the Municipal Research and Services Center said this is due to a 1970s state law that created codes for certain types of cities. Burien is a Municipal Code city, meaning that the Burien City Council requires four votes to pass ordinances regardless of who is present.
Proponents, including Burien resident Katie Heideman, expressed frustration in Mayor Krakowiak, who sets the agenda and pushed the discussion of the item to late in the meeting and then left before they could vote. Krakowiak and Edgar have left the meetings twice now before the ordinance could be discussed. But Burien resident Katie Heideman said the work would continue.
“I was ashamed, honestly,” she said. Heideman was first to contact the City Council to propose such an ordinance.
Krakowiak did not return calls for comment.
Heideman said the ordinance is necessary — she preferred it over a non-binding statement — in a city that is as diverse as Burien. Twenty percent of the city are Hispanic or Latino.
Piasecki said that the ordinance could next be considered at either the Jan. 9 or Jan. 23 council meetings. Berkowitz said she would continue to support the ordinance.
“I look forward to seeing our community turning our in solidarity once more,” Berkowitz said.