OLYMPIA – A proposal to expand Washington state’s existing sanctuary state rules is moving forward in the Legislature, potentially strengthening an existing wall of West Coast states with such policies.
The bill, from Mercer Island Democratic Sen. Lisa Wellman, would limit the ability of police to inquire about immigration status in noncriminal situations. It would also require schools, courthouses and other government facilities to adopt rules minimizing the risk of being used as staging grounds for immigration stops, along with other protections
The bill had a public hearing Friday in the House. It previously passed the Senate.
At the hearing, Wellman said the measure would protect the state’s workforce in the agriculture, hospitality and high-tech sectors.
“We have 30 percent of Microsoft here on visas,” Wellman said in an interview before the hearing. At the same time, she said, “You can’t open a hotel if you don’t have immigrants in back-of-house.”
The bill would also prohibit state and local police from passing immigration status information to federal authorities unless required by law.
The protections would put Washington on par with – and in some areas beyond – Oregon and California, both of which have adopted their own sanctuary state policies.
Oregon, which in 1987 was the first state to adopt a statewide sanctuary policy, has a straightforward restriction on police spending any resources – including paid staff time – going after people who are in the country illegally but haven’t committed other crimes.
California passed more robust protections in 2017, including yearly reporting requirements and a rule that authorities must get written consent from people they arrest before allowing them to be interviewed by immigration officers.
Washington has had limited sanctuary protections since 2017, when Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order generally limiting state police from helping with immigration enforcement, requiring state agencies to provide services regardless of immigration status, and blocking state agencies from asking about immigration status.
But Wellman’s bill would expand on that by creating more specific limits on police, and applying them to local law enforcement as well as state officers. It would also require the state attorney general to set rules designed to minimize immigration stops at state facilities like courthouses.
The bill would also block police or prison agencies from using interpreters borrowed from federal immigration authorities, require detainees to be notified of their right to decline to be interviewed by federal authorities, and prohibit the state Department of Corrections from holding people at the request of immigration authorities.
Along with traditional immigration stops in public places, Wellman pointed to episodes including a short-lived January 2017 executive order by President Donald Trump barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries as creating uncertainty around immigration rules in the state.
At Friday’s hearing, representatives of the Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, a prominent advocacy group, said they were not opposed to the measure.
Reached before the Friday hearing, Enumclaw Rep. Morgan Irwin, the ranking Republican member on the committee, said he hadn’t had a chance to look closely at the bill but was concerned it could hinder other types of coordination between local law enforcement agencies and their federal counterparts.
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