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Lawmakers and activists combine to ensure immigrant rights

Washington State will have the strongest immigrant protection legislation in the country, according to ACLU Coordinator Eric Gonzales. “Keep Washington Working,” just passed by our legislature, ensures the rights and dignity of all residents and recognizes the importance of immigrants. The legislation repeals two anti-immigrant bills that have been on the books since 1925 when the Ku Klux Klan had major political influence in our state.

Bob Zeigler & Lin Nelson | Works in Progress
Activists from across Washington rally on the Capitol steps in February.

The new law directs state and local agencies to not participate in federal immigration efforts to arrest and deport non-criminal immigrants and to participate only in what is required by state or federal law. District 22 Thurston County legislators, Senator Sam Hunt and Representatives Beth Doglio and Laurie Dolan, joined others in sponsoring this critical human rights bill.

With this vote and Governor Inslee’s signing into law, Washington joins Oregon and California in standing against the Trump Administration policies that break up immigrant families, jail their children and deny legal asylum to the extent that is legally possible.

For the last three years, Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN), ACLU, WA State Labor Council, Northwest Immigrants’ Rights Project (NWIRP), Faith and Action Network, local CIELO and Strengthening Sanctuary have been working to press for passage of this immigrant protection legislation. Many other groups such as One America, Thurston County League of Women Voters, and others across the state have also pressed for it.

The legislation repeals two antiimmigrant bills that have been on the books since 1925…

Strengthening Sanctuary members Debi Hardy and Gayle Mar-Chun, who are retired school administrators, encouraged the legislature to adopt an additional bill to make schools safe for immigrant students. Because we got involved too late the bill did not proceed after being sent to committee. The school administrators impressed our legislators with the school research and need for legislation to provide policy guidance. These interactions helped our District 22 legislators become much more involved as immigrant advocates in the legislature. Laurie Dolan worked on a minor amendment to save the Keep Washington Working bill when it failed in the first House Floor vote.

Activities that helped push Keep Washington Working across the finish line:

Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) Immigrant Advocacy Day February 5. This brought 200 immigrants and supporters from around the state to meet with legislators on Keep Washington Working, Census Funding and other important immigrant bills.

The Olympia City Council on February 5, led by Jessica Bateman and Renata Rollins, unanimously adopted a resolution identifying the need and calling on the Legislature and Governor to pass immigrant protection legislation.

ACLU on Mondays and WAISN on Tuesdays had statewide noon-hour conference calls to describe where the legislation was at and actions needed each week of session.
Calls and emails to legislators from members of Strengthening Sanctuary, Thurston County League of Women Voters and other supporters around the state. Folks went to House and Senate Hearings on the bills and signed in as “pro” to be counted and reported to the Committee.

The bill will not totally stop ICE from arresting and deporting immigrants in Washington State, but it will make a real difference in the lives of immigrants. In the past ICE (and before that INS) tended not to have high visibility in areas where there was strong immigrant support. But with the vindictive Trump Administration, there could be increased activity as a result of the bill. To counter this, WAISN is planning deportation defense strategies. (To report ICE or other immigration activities you may call 1-844-724-3737.)

As it is much easier to kill than to pass a bill, there were disappointments this legislative session. SB 5164 would have provided assistance to immigrant victims of trafficking. It sailed through the Senate, but died in the House when it was argued that a piece of the title was unconstitutional. It will be corrected and re-introduced next year.

Strong legislative session in support of immigrant rights

Overall, it was a strong session in support of immigrant rights. Here are comments from Liezl Tomas Rebugio, Field Director for ACLU of WA:

“No matter where we come from, how we speak, or what we look like, all people have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. The Keep Washington Working Act recognizes the right to an identity that is seen and valued—not feared and ostracized. Communities across the state will benefit from this important legislation, which affirms the inherent worth of all immigrants and the important contributions immigrants make to our state’s economy and culture.”

Steffani Powell, Olympia based attorney active with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, offered these thoughts on the session:

AILA applauds the legislature of Washington State for passing the Keep Washington Working Act. The act focuses local law enforcement resources on protecting local communities, disentangling local law enforcement officers from federal immigration enforcement. Another important passage is the Workforce Education Investment Act. It provides for major investments into workforce education throughout the state.

This act will give families making around $60,000 or less (70% of the state’s median family income) a full-tuition scholarship to college or to apprenticeship training, by dramatically expanding the State Need Grant, renamed as the Washington College Grant. The bill will also provide partial tuition scholarships to families earning up to 100% of median family Income (approximately $88,000 for a family of four). It will significantly help immigrant families. It is paid for by an increase in the B&O tax on lawyers, engineers and other professionals.

The effort to strengthen public policy in support of immigrant rights is connected to a broader movement for justice here in the region. WAISN is a key organizer among more than 100 groups, large and small, that organize around immigrant rights. WAISN is especially strong on identifying and strengthening youth leadership. In April, WAISN hosted “Youth Convening” in Yakima. Drawing 200 young advocates, the gathering celebrated the power of young organizers, deepened advocacy approaches for protecting communities, and pushed for access to higher education.

Also emerging is the LGBTQ Asylum Seeker Coalition Program. This effort pays careful attention to how, despite Washington’s relatively supportive stance toward immigrants, LGBTQ asylum seekers are ending up at the Tacoma Detention Center and in need of strong support. The Fair Fight Bond Fund helps out folks who are at risk for fast-track deportation. In 2018, WAISN efforts allowed 18 people to be bonded out of detention and reunited with their families.

The Accompaniment Program is a network of volunteers who support people through the courts, providing a dramatic presence in support of immigrant rights. The movement here is building in dramatic contrast with and resistance to the Trump xenophobia, which continues to demonize immigrants, put children at risk, and undermine community across the US.

Lin Nelson is a retired Evergreen teacher. She serves on the board of the Rachel Corrie Foundation and has been active with Strengthening Sanctuary.

Bob Zeigler is a retired biologist. As a peace and justice volunteer he worked in the 1980s Sanctuary Movement and Central America Solidarity efforts.

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