The third time was the charm for the Burien City Council’s attempt to designate itself a safe city for immigrants, refugees and religious minorities. On Jan. 9, the City Council representing a community of roughly 50,000 people passed an ordinance barring its police and staff from inquiring about residents’ immigration status or religion.
The ordinance passed in a 4-to-3 vote to cheers and applause from a crowded room. During the evening, residents from Burien strongly supported the ordinance, outnumbering those who opposed it.
The ordinance replicates a similar one passed by the King County Council, which prohibits the King County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement personnel from asking people about their immigration status. By passing the ordinance in Burien, the bar applies to all city personnel. Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz successfully amended the ordinance barring the city from asking people about their religion and barring the city from keeping any records or registry of people’s religions, other than information that is voluntarily given.
The ordinance was requested by residents in 2016 in response to the election of President-elect Donald Trump. Burien residents contacted the city hoping to get at least a resolution, essentially a City Council statement that has no legal binding.
Instead, they got a full ordinance, which people often call a “sanctuary city” ordinance. The City Council voted on the ordinance in December, but it was not passed due to state rules governing city councils. A majority of the five councilmembers present at a Dec. 19 meeting passed the ordinance after Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and Deputy Mayor Bob Edgar left the meeting. State law requires Burien to pass ordinances with a majority of the full seven-member City Council, not just a majority of those present.
Burien is just the latest in a number of local governments considering their relationship with federal immigration enforcement. Like ordinances passed by the Seattle City Council and the King County Council, Burien’s ordinance essentially means that city staff and law enforcement will not do the work of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (also known as ICE).
Residents crowded the room, filling nearly all the seats and leaving a tight pack of people standing in the back of council chambers. Those in favor wore white stickers with a mountain, a tree, butterflies and ocean waves with the words “Here to stay.”
Along with many adults — including teachers and activists — students from Highline High School in Burien argued to the City Council that they and their classmates should not have to live with the fear that their parents could be taken at any moment. Several of the students who spoke were part of a Burien nonprofit known as Para Los Niños, in which teens offer younger Latinx students tutoring and mentorship.
“Now we can call the police without fear,” said Highline High School freshman Moises Guillen, who noted that immigrants are often afraid to call the police for fear of being released into the custody of federal immigration enforcement.
The students said their friends and family live in constant fear that their families could be separated. Highline sophomore Brandon Posadas lives in the U.S. while his parents are in Mexico.
“I’m here because I know what it feels like not living with your parents,” he said. “I’ve lived half my life away from them.”
Opponents to the measure argued that Burien police were already operating under King County’s bar from asking people about their immigration status. Others equated immigration with increased crime in Burien.
In the end, councilmembers Berkowitz, Nancy Tosta, Austin Bell and Steve Armstrong held a narrow majority in favor of the ordinance. They argued that it would lessen fear and was in line with the city’s commitment to inclusion and diversity.
“I have been very excited to see the community stand up,” Berkowitz said before voting for the ordinance.