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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Keep Spokane’s law giving immigrants sanctuary

The sometimes ugly remarks about immigrants made at Monday’s Spokane City Council meeting should be a concern to every resident who believes that a more diverse population will be critical to a thriving economy and robust cultural activity in the 21st century.

Invoking God, terrorism and the business and occupation tax, foes of the city’s “sanctuary” status sought council consent to put an initiative on the November ballot that would repeal an ordinance enacted barely two months ago. The council refused, so supporters will have to gather 14,000 signatures to get their proposal to the voters.

If it hits the streets – the city hearing examiner must sign off on its legality – do not sign.

But what is it that has so offended a Federal Way group, Respect Washington, and the Spokane County Republican Party?

In creating a sanctuary, the council simply prevented city employees or police officers from asking about anyone’s immigration status. Police can do so if they have reasonable cause to believe they are dealing with a possible felon who may have re-entered the United States after deportation.

They cannot detain someone based solely on immigration status.

In essence, the ordinance takes the Spokane Police Department out of the business of enforcing federal immigration laws. Our overextended officers have plenty to do without supplementing the efforts of a U.S. Border Patrol force that has quintupled in the past 20 years.

The ordinance also complements Spokane Police Department policy adopted in 2013, which recognizes that focusing on a suspect, witness or victim’s immigration status will discourage efforts to fight crime. The circumstances that may require notifying immigration officials of a suspect’s status, or when police can cooperate with immigration officials are carefully detailed.

The “Purpose and Scope” of Policy 428 says it all: “The immigration status of individuals alone is generally not a matter of police action. … Confidence in this (personal commitment to equal enforcement of the law and equal service to the public regardless of immigration status) will increase the effectiveness of the Department in protecting and serving the entire community.”


Spokane is one of more than 100 U.S. cities and counties that have adopted some form of sanctuary law, Seattle and King County among them. The state of Oregon is a sanctuary.

Respect Washington has tried unsuccessfully to put an initiative on the state ballot that would exhaustively detail how public officials and private companies should go about identifying immigrants and certifying their legal status.

In Spokane, Mayor David Condon recognized the contribution immigrants are making to the city with a fiesta last summer celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. That’s a good start, and a fitting response to Respect Washington – and his fellow Republicans.

In a city with a school district teaching students speaking 55 languages, the greater the focus on the achievements of all our international communities, the brighter our future.

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