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Council adopts guidelines for immigrant and refugee assistance that make King County a “National Model”


Metropolitan King County
Council News

Council adopts guidelines for immigrant and refugee assistance that make King County a “National Model”


Strengthening and clarifying existing County Code


Building on guidelines approved by the Metropolitan King County Council in 2017, the Council today adopted immigration legislation that will make King County a leader in protecting everyone’s safety and civil rights. The ordinance will prevent the use of County funds and resources on federal immigration enforcement and outlines the steps the County will use to protect immigrants and refugees who seek services from the County or are victims/witnesses of crime, while still adhering to federal law.

“King County has been in the forefront of protecting immigrants and refugees especially in this difficult period in our nation,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, prime sponsor of the ordinance. “With this ordinance, we continue the work we began in 2009 of ensuring that Martin Luther King, Jr. County builds the beloved community and makes our region a safe and welcoming community for all.”

“While the current federal administration continues to advocate for policies that seek to disenfranchise and marginalize immigrant and refugee residents and communities, I firmly believe that our county government has a vital role in ensuring that King County is a welcoming and affirming place for all,” said Council Chair Joe McDermott. “The ordinance adopted today will enhance public safety and demonstrate that we are a government for all of our residents.”

In 2009, the Council adopted legislation to ensure that all county residents had access to services regardless of immigration status and that the Sheriff’s Office not seek out information on a person’s citizenship in the normal course of their work. Last spring, in the wake of actions from the Trump administration regarding immigration status enforcement policy, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson developed guidelines for local governments in Washington who wanted to provide service and support to immigrants and refugees while allowing the county’s continued assistance to immigrant and refugee populations in ways that still meet federal legal requirements.

“Our history is one that has welcomed immigrants and refugees. Inscribed on our most cherished monument to these values are the words ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...’” said Council Vice Chair Rod Dembowski. “Unfortunately actions by the Federal government have shaken this promise. I am proud to have co-sponsored today’s ordinance that ensures immigrants and refugees feel welcomed and protected in King County.”

“Today, we stand together to send a strong message of inclusion to immigrant and refugee communities of King County: You are welcome here,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Chair of the Council’s Health, Housing and Human Services Committee and a cosponsor of the legislation. “It makes no sense to spend the limited resources we have to work against what is in all of our best interest--ensuring public safety and equitable access to the services we offer by protecting and supporting communities that are unfairly targeted by our federal government.”

Today’s ordinance continues those strategies already in code and adds requirements to implement the recommendations of the state Attorney General with the goal of ensuring that the county’s limited resources are not spent collaborating with the aggressive deportation actions on a federal level. The legislation upholds the rights of all county residents regardless of status:

• King County employees, including law enforcement officers, are prohibited from asking about immigration status or investigating whether an individual has violated civil immigration laws,
• The County will not deny anyone services based on immigration status, unless requited by law,
• The County will prevent federal immigration agents from having access to non-public areas of county facilities or give them access to databases without a judicial warrant.

The legislation also outlines the county’s working relationship with the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):

• The King County Jail will continue its policy of not honoring ICE request for notification or detention unless accompanied by a judicial warrant,
• Jail staff will explain to all people in jail who face the possibility of ICE interviews their right to remain silent as well as their ability to decline an interview. Unlike police, ICE agents are not required to inform individuals of their “Miranda Rights” nor do they have automatic access to an attorney, because immigration enforcement is civil, not criminal in nature.

The goal of the legislation is to continue adhering to federal laws while encouraging all people to feel safe in requesting needed services and reporting crimes against themselves or people in their neighborhoods.

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