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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington Senate passes bill to curb discrimination against undocumented immigrants

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, left, talks with Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, right, after they took part in the AP Legislative Preview, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Billig has criticized Schoesler for declining to sign off on the extension of an emergency order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee related to domestic violence protection orders. (Ted S. Warren / AP)
By Daisy Zavala The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Washington residents couldn’t be discriminated against for housing, jobs or public accommodations based on their citizenship or immigration status under a bill that passed the Senate on Friday.

The bill, which also would outlaw overcharging a person based on their citizenship or immigration status, said Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, the bill’s sponsor. The only exceptions to the protections would be if federal or state regulation requires different treatment based on a person’s legal status.

The bill passed the Senate last year but did not pass the House and needed a new vote in the Senate to have a chance to become law this year.

“People have felt more empowered to discriminate and say hateful things,” said Saldaña, D-Seattle. There has been a noticeable increase in hate crimes and discrimination in housing based on perceived legal status, she said.

There is a lot of implicit bias that factors into discrimination, Saldaña said, adding that a person may be a permanent resident with the proper paperwork, but someone else may perceive them as an “illegal immigrant.”

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he had concerns about the bill because laws against discrimination already are in place.

“I’m also concerned about the animus out there … towards the folks that work for ICE,” Padden said, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said that as an employer, he’s prohibited by federal law from hiring undocumented individuals, but the state bill seems to contradict that.

“We’re told to not hire people that are not here within legal limit,” Schoesler said. “On the other hand, we’re told we can’t worry about it.”

Washington’s Law Against Discrimination already protects certain groups against discrimination in employment, public spaces, housing, credit and insurance, but the bill would specifically add citizenship and immigration status to the protected classes.

“The hope is that this just helps add one more definition that will hopefully help the kids feel more protected and more empowered to stand up when they see discrimination or hate happening,” Saldaña said.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, claimed that when undocumented criminals are released from jail, Washington law doesn’t allow local law enforcement to coordinate with ICE to deport them.

“This has resulted in the murder and rape of Washington citizens because of legislation like this,” he said.

Sen Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, said the bill is not about violent criminals but about discrimination and violations of the Constitution.

“We have to understand that discrimination was outlawed for a purpose,” he said. “It’s a weapon, a tool to use against people who are disempowered.”

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, pointed to a 2019 analysis by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on the criminal justice system, that concluded there is no evidence of a relationship between increased undocumented immigration and higher crime rates.

“We should stick to the facts when we’re debating this policy and not get carried away with things that are not true,” Kuderer said. “We’re not about fear-mongering.”