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Tuesday, April 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Legislature offers protections to undocumented residents

Daisy Zavala

OLYMPIA – Washington’s undocumented residents would have more protections under bills that passed the Legislature this year and are awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.

The Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Seattle, that would restrict federal officers from arresting undocumented residents around courthouses or collecting information on their legal status unless they have a court order.

“As a refugee coming to this country, the capacity to even be heard and have justice is incredibly important to me,” she said.

The bill is designed to make sure courthouses are places where people can seek justice and uphold the fairness to the people the state serves, she said. It doesn’t apply to criminal offenses or restrict officers from issuing traffic tickets around courthouses.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, opposed the bill during floor debate, contending lawmakers should be more focused on cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement, not making it more difficult.

A bill that would have limited immigration enforcement officers’ access to school grounds received a public hearing, but didn’t clear the House Committee on Education.

Another bill protecting immigrants and undocumented people that passed would add immigrants and undocumented residents as a protected class under the Washington Law Against Discrimination. It’s also awaiting the governor’s signature.

They would be protected from discrimination in public spaces when applying for housing, credit or insurance, according to the bill sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle.

Some Republicans expressed concerns that employers might be required to hire undocumented immigrants, although the bill exempts employer decisions based on federal laws or regulations.

Lawmakers also passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, that would create an undocumented student loan program, making it easier for them to receive low-interest loans to pay for school.

It’s critical for all students in the state to have access to tools that can fund their education regardless of their status, he said.

“They have dreams far bigger than the system can provide,” he said. “This is a way for undocumented students to pay for their education the same way other students can through federal student loans.”

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