Upward of 200 people converged on Spokane City Hall Monday night to voice both support and concern with a police department policy that says the immigration status of an individual “shall not be the sole basis for a contact, detention or arrest.”
The policy, which has been on the books for a decade and was reaffirmed by the Spokane City Council last fall in a city ordinance, has come under attack by people who argue it turns Spokane into a “sanctuary city” and encourages lawlessness. Detractors have gathered signatures to place a repeal of the immigration law on an upcoming ballot.
After three hours of testimony Monday, the council voted to ask the county to verify the signatures.
Council President Ben Stuckart cast the lone vote against verifying the signatures, saying they were gathered fraudulently because the petition that was circulated had unapproved, “biased language.”
Stuckart pointed to a paragraph detailing the policy’s history that listed city Councilmen Mike Fagan and Mike Allen as those who “voted to prevent Spokane from becoming a sanctuary for illegal aliens, and to defend the right of taxpayers, police and other city employees to refuse finance and harbor of lawless activity.”
The council heard impassioned pleas on the city policy, race and immigration, three minutes at a time.
Most speakers testified in favor of the city policy, and many in the audience showed their support by standing and wearing blue ribbons.
Among the first to speak was Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the Center for Justice, who said the ribbons represented “freedom from hate and ignorance.”
Eichstaedt urged the council not to accept the signatures, which he also called fraudulent.
He suggested a lawsuit awaited the city if it did.
Supporters of the initiative included Gretchen McDevitt, wife of former U.S. Attorney James McDevitt, who said those who opposed the policy were “not racists.” Instead, she said they want people to obey the law.
“I expect to be treated fairly,” she said. “We’re allowing too much to happen that is illegal.”
Earlier in the day, Mayor David Condon said he supported the police policy and would not vote for its repeal if it appeared in its present form.
“I would vote against it as it’s currently stated,” Condon said. “This has been the policy, remains the policy and I fully support that practice and policy within our police division. Immigration status is not a primary local law enforcement function.”
If the county auditor verifies that enough signatures were collected, it will appear on the November ballot. If passed, it would repeal the immigration language added by the City Council and require any change in immigration policy to be voted on citywide.