The following article was written by Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance members, Lin Nelson and Bob Zeigler, and published in Olympia's alternative newspaper, Works in Progress. It is reprinted here, with slight revisions, with grateful appreciation to the newspaper.

Immigrants are welcome here: a 2020 Policy Agenda for Washington State

A message to our elected officials

Since assuming office, President Trump and his Justice Department have continued to send a strong message: “Immigrants are no longer welcome here.” Cruel policies toward immigrant families have deepened, families and children are separated and imprisoned, people are blocked from applying for legal asylum as refugees. Financial support for many mixed status families is being denied and there are proposed increases in immigration fees.

Many presidential dictates and Justice Department policies violate immigrant, human, civil—and at times basic constitutional – rights. These policies create a climate of fear in immigrant communities, with heightened anxiety about people disappearing and families being separated. Clearly, a key purpose of this cruel treatment is to discourage others from coming to the U.S. and encourage self-deportation. Even immigrants with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protected Status) designations are threatened with loss of that status.

Legislative push-back against harassment, arrest and deportation

States like Washington, Oregon and California, along with some major cities, are passing legislation or creating policies to restrict state and local government cooperation (to the extent legally possible) with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to prevent the arrest and deportation of non-criminal immigrants, many of whom play vital roles in local and statewide economies. Some communities have become official Sanctuary Cities, adopting policies to restrict local police from collaborating with ICE. The City of Olympia unanimously passed a resolution to become a Sanctuary City on December 13, 2016. Last year, the State of Washington passed and signed into law the Keep Washington Working Act, affirming the dignity and economic value of Washington State immigrants, and restricting state and local governments from providing assistance to ICE.

The presence of ICE officials at courthouses around the West Coast appears to be increasing. This is threatening for immigrants who appear as witnesses, crime victims or defendants. In June 2019, an immigrant was arrested by ICE plain clothes officers on Thurston County Courthouse grounds and was driven off in an unmarked van. District Court Judge Brett Buckley commented at a County hearing on the arrest that it had the appearance of a kidnapping and should not happen in this country.

Washington State Supreme Court Judge Mary Fairhurst wrote the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security in 2017, challenging ICE and Border Patrol practices around local courthouses. “These developments are deeply troubling because they impede the fundamental mission of our courts, which is to ensure due process and access to justice for everyone, regardless of their immigration status.” ICE and the Border Patrol have not honored this request.

Oregon, by contrast, has launched newly strengthened measures to protect immigrants in courthouse areas. The protection of immigrants in the courthouse arena will be a central feature of the 2020 public policy agenda by immigrants’ rights groups.

New bills aimed at securing immigrant rights

Wednesday, February 5 is Immigrant Rights Advocacy Day at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. The public is invited to learn more about proposed legislation and is encouraged to meet with congressional leaders during and after the event. Some highlights of the legislation being proposed include:

Courts Open to All (SB 6522; HB 2567)

  • Seeks to restrict ICE activity at Washington courthouses:

  • Prohibits prosecutors, judges and court staff from sharing information with ICE or Customs and Border Patrol CBP);

  • Requires courts to collect data about when and why ICE/CBP agents will be at the courthouse;

  • Requires judicial warrants for civil ICE/CBP arrests on courthouse grounds.

Ban Private Prisons (HB 2576; SB 6442)

  • Stops expansion of detention centers in the state; prohibits re-contracting with the Northwest Detention Center when their contract expires.

Expand Health Coverage

  • Makes Apple Health (State Medicaid) available to undocumented immigrants up to age 26.

Workplace Audit Protection

  •  Requires ICE to give notice to employers before conducting an audit;

  •  Requires employers to notify employees before an ICE audit occurs or if an employee’s name is flagged.

Unemployment Benefits or Emergency Funds for Immigrants

Safe Schools Bill (SB 5834; HB 1697)

  • Requires school districts to create policies that protect the rights of immigrant students.


Enable Undocumented College Students to Work on Campus

Solidarity groups help meet immediate needs of immigrant populations

Legislative advocacy matters, of course, but so do the daily efforts of those who creatively and forcefully challenge xenophobic authorities, ensure people’s safety and creatively forge ways to involve people from a range of backgrounds and experiences. Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) is a vital force, involving around 150 organizations committed to protecting immigrants and to strengthening our communities in a number of interconnecting ways. WAISN, in alliance with other organizations, has just launched a program to support unaccompanied immigrant youth by advocating for their release from detention, finding safe housing, and supporting youth who are transitioning out of custodial conditions.

WAISN’s Fair Fight Bond Funds project provides urgently needed funding. The Rapid Response and Deportation Defense projects are dedicated to providing material support, incident tracking and verification, and on-the-ground witnesses. The effort to “lift a case in the public sphere” involves careful, creative, and respectful ways of telling the stories that too often are ignored or silenced.

WAISN’s movement-building momentum opens up space for organizations that have very focused purposes like Advocates for Immigrants in Detention NW (AIDNW), which maintains a steadfast daily presence at the gates of the Tacoma detention center, providing transport, housing, material support, and emotional sustenance to just-released folks.

Olympia’s Strengthening Sanctuary Alliance also offers important accompaniment services, like workshops in schools on the needs of immigrant students and their families; strategizing to keep Olympia a Sanctuary community by learning about and challenging law enforcement practices; fund-raising for immigrants’ needs, offering Know Your Rights workshops, and collaborating with CIELO, a vital educational support for Olympia area immigrants.

Meeting shifting policies with renewed resolve

All of these efforts and approaches have helped create an immigrants’ rights movement in a varied and challenging region. WAISN and allied organizations are astute observers of emerging and shifting national policies, while also offering real-time support for people dealing with ICE raids like the one in Basin City in Central Washington last summer. Due to the preparation, knowledge and courage of WAISN advocates, most of the Basin City detainees were quickly released.

Working to release nine detainees in an ICE raid in an isolated, vulnerable community such as Basin City has to be connected in meaningful ways to the at-the-gates approach of AIDNW in Tacoma. We have a lot to teach each other in our varied communities, with the different opportunities and different risks that separate rural and urban places across the Cascade divide.

Nor can we take Washington’s “sanctuary state” condition for granted. There are those in the legislature who have other things in mind, from Senator Phil Fortunato’s plan to reverse/obliterate WA-as-Sanctuary to Representative Matt Shea’s dream of merging Northeast Washington and northern Idaho to create the white/Christian/separatist state of “Liberty.”

At the moment, the Northwest has a powerful immigrant-rights stance. Every day there is something new to grapple with and powerful challenges to strengthen our resolve. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to do. Learn more about protecting and strengthening the rights of immigrants and their families at Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Day on February 5.

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