In August, the City Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31539. I authored the resolution, with the expertise and assistance of the Office of Immigrant and Refuge Affairs (OIRA), the Immigrant and Refugee Commission, and organizations like El Comite Pro-Reforma Migratoria Y Justicia Social . It was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Harrell and Sawant. Because nearly one-third of children in Seattle are in immigrant families, the thrust of the resolution is that it is mutually beneficial to keep families together.
There were several requests that the resolution made of the Obama Administration and our own Federal delegation, but what I thought was equally important for the City of Seattle was that the resolution also looked at our own practices and committed the City of Seattle to redouble efforts to inform the immigrant and refugee community of their legal rights and Seattle’s own policies related to their immigration status, including options to qualify for different types of immigration status. You may recall that City Council passed a landmark ordinance in 2013 that I led the Council in passing, referred to as the “Don’t Ask” law. This law prohibits police officers and city officials from inquiring into individuals’ immigration status. But still, too many people don’t know that in Seattle no one has to demonstrate their citizenship status when they call 911 for help or to receive other City-funded services. In fact, from time to time we hear the sad story of a person in need being turned away from a service provider who was unaware that this law means that the receipt of City-funded services must not be dependent upon demonstration of one’s citizenship status.
Last week, OIRA informed me that follow up actions on the Council’s resolution have begun. As a first step, the Chief of Police has already re-issued a standing directive to all staff reenforcing the “Don’t Ask” law. As a second step, SPD has also agreed to work with OIRA to do an education campaign utilizing the City’s many ethnic media outlets to increase communication to the immigrant and refugee community about Seattle’s policies related to their immigration status.
In addition, I am happy to report that the Human Services Department (HSD) is stepping up as well to play an important role to ensure that human service providers funded by the City of Seattle are informed of the intent of the “Don’t Ask” ordinance. HSD will be sending a letter to providers who receive general fund dollars to remind them of the “Don’t Ask” law and that they must not consider the immigration status of any person in determining eligibility for city-funded services. I have long believed that providers should be notified of this expectation as they enter into contracts with the City. In response, HSD has agreed to operationalize this step moving forward. Finally, resulting from the initiative of the Office of Policy and Innovation, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) has agreed to include the “Don’t Ask” law in their Civil Rights workshops with human service providers.
I’m encouraged that the City is being so vigilant in ensuring that we are following our own laws related to immigration policy. It continues to trouble me that despite the federal government’s policy to prioritize the deportation of individuals with serious criminal convictions, the majority of the nearly 400,000 departed each year since 2009 have no convictions whatsoever or only minor convictions.