More than three months after the Yakima City Council first started debating a policy explaining how the city deals with undocumented immigrants, the issue remains unresolved and as contentious as ever.
The council recently looked at the latest draft of a measure stating police won’t arbitrarily ask about a person’s immigration status, but also notes nothing prohibits police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
The proposed ordinance is expected to be discussed at the council’s next meeting Tuesday.
The draft was co-sponsored by councilwomen Dulce Gutierrez and Carmen Mendez, who hope to forge a middle ground between opponents and supporters of an earlier proposal designating Yakima a “welcoming city.”
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Welcoming city advocate Connie Chronister says this proposed ordinance will encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes or provide witness accounts to police.
She says it will also reassure opponents of a welcoming ordinance that the city won’t draw the ire of President Trump and result in the loss of federal funding.
“We’ve heard the stories from teachers and counselors about children coming to them absolutely terrified that they’re going to come home from school one day with members of their family missing,” she told the council.
“We’ve also heard fears from the other side of the immigration issue, concerns that we’ll lose our federal funding … but this inclusive policing policy plainly states that we will not do anything with our city law enforcement to undermine federal law.”
But those worried the city could lose federal funding aren’t so sure.
The largest sticking point is a provision requiring a court order before police could hold anyone for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Senior assistant city attorney and city prosecutor Cynthia Martinez says that warrant could actually protect the city. That’s because federal courts have ruled that ICE detainers are essentially a request for detention, which would make the city liable for any wrongful detention, she said.
A judge’s order, on the other hand, stands a better chance of protecting the city, she said.
Councilwomen Mendez and Gutierrez hope to meet with Yakima police in the coming weeks to get their thoughts on the proposed ordinance. Several council members also expressed interest in holding town hall meetings to hear from residents.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said recently he hasn’t had a chance to look specifically at Yakima’s policies. But he said in general, Yakima’s policy of not asking immigration status is more legal than some cities, such as Seattle, which has a policy of withholding information from ICE officers.
Should Trump order federal funding be taken from cities that have labeled themselves “sanctuary cities” or have other sanctuary-like policies, Ferguson said he would not automatically oppose the order.
Instead, he would first consider if it harms state residents, whether it’s lawful and what kind of resources his department has to fight such a policy.