Immigrants are US
A Proposed Policy Agenda for Washington State
Immigrant rights organizers, advocates and allies hope that 2021 will begin a new era in
immigration policy. On the national level this means undoing and transforming the repressive anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration--a process Biden has already begun. In Washington State it means continuing to advocate for state policies that protect the most disenfranchised members of our communities.
During the Trump years, Washington, along with Oregon and California, created policies and passed legislation to restrict local and state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agencies, to the extent legally possible, and prevent the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants. In 2019 the Keep Washington Working Act restricted state and local governments from providing assistance to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Immigrant rights and human rights groups throughout the state, including the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and our own Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance worked together to press for the passage of KWW. The act created "model policies" for law enforcement, courts and schools, but did not require local districts to enact them. We in Washington are still learning what it takes to create policies that are not only inclusive and equitable--but that can and will be enforced.
In 2020 Washington passed the Courts Open to All Act, which prohibited prosecutors, judges and court staff from sharing information with immigration enforcement, and required them to get warrants before trying to arrest an undocumented person at the court.
2021 and the Lessons of Covid-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the urgent need for a robust and equitable public health system. Across the country, public health agencies and hospitals have been overwhelmed by the needs and numbers of people who were sickened by COVID. The numbers have been especially shocking in low income communities and communities of color. In April 2020 the Latino Center for Health reported that while Latinx people make up 13% of the state's population, they are 43% of confirmed COVID cases and on January 22, 2021 the WA. State Dept. of Health showed the rate of infection among Latinx residents as 33%--still disproportionately high.
In May 2020 rates of COVID skyrocketed in Yakima County, Washington. Latinx agricultural workers who had been identified as "essential" by the state went on strike to call attention to their lack of health and safety protections on the job. In response Governor Inslee, for the first time, created COVID-specific requirements that mandated agricultural businesses to provide masks, retool worksites to allow social distancing, create accessible washing stations and disinfect bathrooms several times a day. At the end of May the workers returned to their jobs, where they continue to struggle for safe working conditions and fair wages. A new union, Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia (Workers United for Justice) is continuing to organize in Yakima; they are supported by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice (a Latinx and primarily indigenous farmworkers' union in Skagit and Whatcom Counties), Community to Community Development, the Washington State Labor Council and Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance.
The 2021 Legislative Session
For the 2021 legislative session immigrant rights groups, unions, faith-based organizations and human rights groups are urging legislation to provide increased protection for immigrants and undocumented workers, and health and unemployment benefits for people who are undocumented:
--Unemployment Insurance for Undocumented Workers: This bill proposes a temporary unemployment benefits program for workers who are not eligible for unemployment insurance because they are undocumented.
--Health Equity for Immigrants: this policy would extend state health insurance programs to include people who are undocumented.
Other proposed legislation includes:
--Prohibiting For-Profit Prisons: this bill would ban privately owned detention facilities, including the for-profit Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
--Access to Office of Civil Legal Aid: this proposal would abolish the policy that prevents the Office of Civil Legal Aid from providing funding to people who are undocumented.
--Worker Protection Act: this bill would create a legal avenue for workers or their advocates to sue their employer, on behalf of the state, for violations of workplace protections. The settlement would be divided between the workers and the state agency Labor and Industries.
--Prohibitions on Unnecessary Violence in Police Tactics: this is one of several proposed pieces of legislation to increase police accountability (for further information see the WA Coalition on Police Accountability 2021 Legislative Agenda.
--HEAL (Healthy Environment for All) Act: This bill proposes that all state agencies include environmental justice in their mission and use environmental health disparity data to inform their decisions about enforcement, investments and policy.
--Support for Workers in Food Manufacturing: This bill proposes that exemption from the state B & O tax be made conditional on employers upholding workers' rights, including wages, freedom from sexual harassment and the right to organize and collectively bargain.
Resources On Our Website:
On this website you will find:
--A Toolkit with links, resources, and trainings on how to take action on legislative bills.
--Summaries of priority bills with links to the organizations calling for their passage.
--A bill tracker with links to the full text of each bill, its status in the legislature, key hearings where you can give testimony, and sponsors you can contact to show your support.