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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Judge tosses ‘sanctuary city’ proposition from Spokane’s November ballot

FILE – Spokane County Courthouse on Oct. 26, 2013. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane County judge on Friday dealt what is likely the knockout blow to a beleaguered initiative that would have allowed police to ask people if they are U.S. citizens.

Superior Court Judge Julie McKay’s decision removes from the November ballot Proposition 1, which would have changed or removed portions of city law that restrict police and other officials from asking about a person’s immigration status. The push for the change dates to 2015, when signature-gatherers argued the policy made Spokane a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigration.

Rick Eichstaedt, the attorney for six nonprofits providing services to immigrants and refugees in Spokane, addressed a jubilant group of supporters outside the courtroom Friday morning after McKay issued her ruling.

“Now we can really focus on doing good things in Spokane, and not focus on the type of hate that Proposition 1 really represented,” Eichstaedt said.

The group Respect Washington, based in Tacoma, took charge of legally defending the initiative after local sponsor Jackie Murray dropped her support as signatures were verified. Craig Keller, who is fighting to pass a similar “sanctuary city” ordinance in Burien, said after the hearing that he’ll appeal. But that effort would need to be decided in his favor in 11 days for the initiative to go back on Spokane’s ballot.

“It was on the ballot. It should be on the ballot,” Keller said after the hearing. “We will try to restore it to the ballot through an appeal.”

McKay ruled that changes to the Spokane municipal code, enacted earlier this year and after the signature-gathering campaign to put Proposition 1 on the ballot, would make the initiative’s proposals unworkable.

The initiative would require city employees to share collected immigration status information with federal authorities, absent a vote from the City Council, in addition to removing “citizenship status” from a list of questions police can’t ask about in initial investigations. But the prior changes to city laws prohibit police or city employees from “profiling” based on “citizenship status,” which McKay concluded might put the city’s laws at odds with itself if the initiative passed.

“I’m not quite sure how that’s doable, and could render Proposition 1 meaningless or impossible to implement,” McKay said.

She also ruled the initiative attempted to make policing decisions that should be made by city officials, though she noted there wasn’t much legal direction from prior cases guiding her ruling.

Keller accused the Spokane City Council of amending its human rights code to prevent a vote on Proposition 1.

“Does that mean that all the citizens’ voices and desire to exercise their fundamental legislative authority, does that go in the garbage?” Keller said.

But City Councilwoman Karen Stratton, architect of the changes to the city’s human rights code, said the purpose for the revisions came out of discrimination in housing based on income, not in re-codifying the bias-free policing policy that had been in place for years and adopted into law in 2014.

“I was in a lot of meetings on this. The bias-free policing thing never was brought up,” Stratton said.

On advice from the city’s legal team, the City Council voted in March 2016 to place Proposition 1 on the ballot this year after organizers had previously missed a signature-gathering deadline in 2015.

The panel raised concerns at the time about the language of the proposed ordinance change, which included the assertion some of its members had voted in favor of making Spokane a “sanctuary city.”

City Hall has pushed back on that assertion, saying the policy doesn’t inhibit federal law enforcement agents from enforcing immigration laws.

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both threatened to withhold federal funds from local governments that “prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity from sending to, or receiving from, (federal immigration officers) information regarding the citizens or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual,” according to a memo Sessions issued in May.

Eichstaedt said Friday’s ruling was a rebuke to an “outside group” that receives its “funding from a racist, anti-immigrant community,” referring to the initiative’s financial support from a Michigan-based nonprofit pushing tighter immigration policies nationwide.

“We told Respect Washington to go back home, stay out of our community, go spend your time and dollars someplace else,” Eichstaedt said.

Naghmana Sherazi, a Pakistani immigrant who was one of several onlookers wearing a “No on Prop 1” sticker in the courtroom’s gallery, celebrated alongside members of the Peace and Justice Action League, National Organization for Women and Global Neighborhood following the decision. Sherazi, a Muslim representing several groups, including the Spokane Islamic Center, said it was important for her to fight the proposition to set an example for her 16-year-old son.

“This is my attempt to make sure I leave a better world for him,” said Sherazi, who said she’s working toward naturalization as an American citizen.

McKay’s decision, if it’s not successfully appealed, will not affect the numbering of the other initiative on the Spokane ballot. An initiative seeking to impose fines on coal and oil trains traveling through downtown Spokane will remain Proposition 2 on November’s ballot, said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton.