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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane City Council prohibits immigration status inquiries by employees, including police

Beheadings and Ebola made an appearance at this week’s Spokane City Council meeting, as did some deferred gratitude from Council President Ben Stuckart, who thanked the Spokane Tribe of Indians for allowing the city’s founders to settle here.

It’s fair to say discussion got off track about an ordinance proposed by Stuckart that said, “no Spokane City officer or employee shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person.”

The new law affirms policies already in place in the Spokane Police Department. According to the department’s manual, “the immigration status of individuals alone is not a matter for police action. … Confidence in this commitment will increase the effectiveness of the Department in protecting and serving the community.”

The city ordinance passed by a 5-2 vote, with council members Mike Fagan and Mike Allen opposing it, after an hour of heated testimony.

John Ahern, a former Republican state legislator, called the ordinance “a sanctuary city bill” and warned that it would dissuade businesses from locating in the area.

“Once we make this a sanctuary city … you’re going to see taxes increase,” he said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that.”

Susan Bacon, who said she was a nurse, warned that “illegal aliens” bring dangerous, infectious diseases to the country, including tuberculosis, influenza, leprosy, cholera and scabies.

“I’m not going to bring up Ebola per se because we know far too much about that,” she said.

Laura Shulenbarger, a “political refugee” from Southern California, gave perhaps the direst warning of the evening when she relayed rumors she’d heard from Arizona, which was “being invaded by illegal aliens who were being trained by Mideastern terrorists, and some of their heads were being chopped off,” she said.

Not all speakers testified against the law.

Gloria Ochoa is the city’s director of multicultural affairs. In 2012, she was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire to the state commission on Hispanic affairs.

She told council members that the ordinance was a “sound piece of legislation” before reprimanding other speakers.

“There’s no such thing as an illegal person,” said Ochoa, who moved to the country as an infant before gaining citizenship during her first year of law school at the University of Idaho.

Greg Cunningham, who leads the refugee and immigration services for Catholic Charities, said Spokane’s become more diverse during his 13 years with the group.

“I have seen the face of Spokane change,” he said.

According to World Relief, about 40,000 people have come to Spokane as refugees. Most of them are from the former Soviet Union, but there are also people from the Marshall Islands, Iraq and Mexico, among other places.

It’s unclear how many undocumented workers live in the region, but Cunningham likened the immigrant community to a game of pick-up sticks.

“You cannot remove one without the whole thing collapsing,” he said, noting later that “you can’t remove somebody from the community without having a huge impact. This is about keeping families together.”

The majority of the council said the law strengthened public safety by allowing immigrants who are here illegally to report crimes they are victims of or have witnessed without fear of arrest and deportation.

Fagan did not. Citing statistics from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, he said the 275,000 undocumented immigrants in Washington cost the state $2.7 billion a year.

Stuckart suggested those who spoke against the law lacked historical perspective.

“I really want to thank our local native tribes,” he said. “Especially the Spokane Tribe, for providing the founders of Spokane a sanctuary over 100 years ago.