Washington Becomes Part of the West Coast Sanctuary State Bloc

By Samuel Allegri

A new state law will forbid any local Washington authority from inquiring about the immigration status or place of birth of an individual unless directly related to a criminal investigation.

The extensive protections were signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 21, joining the ranks of West Coast states (California, Oregon) having similar strong “sanctuary” mandates.

Local jails and state prisons are barred from complying with voluntary “immigration holds” that federal authorities could demand, neither will they be allowed to notify federal authorities when an immigrant is preparing to be released from custody, reported The Associated Press.

Florida is about to ban sanctuary cities
Many states have passed laws both for and against so-called sanctuary policies. (Arkansas Governor’s Office via CNN)

“Our state agencies are not immigration enforcement agencies,” said Inslee, who is running for president.

Republican Sen. Phil Fortunato is of a different opinion, he voted against the new sanctuary state law, saying that he thinks it will hinder the capacity of police to act against suspects.

“This not only puts law enforcement at risk, it puts private citizens at risk,” said Fortunato.

Jorge Baron, of the Northwest Immigrants’ Rights Project, believes that the new law will increase public safety by giving migrants and their families fewer concerns about reporting criminal activity or stepping forward as witnesses.

Democratic state Sen. Lisa Wellman, daughter of Jewish immigrants and sponsor for the bill, said that immigrants shouldn’t worry about police requesting documents at any moment. Earlier this year, when the bill was being debated she said, “We have 30 percent of Microsoft here on visas,” adding that “You can’t open a hotel if you don’t have immigrants in back-of-house,” Fox reported.

In 2017, an executive order from Inslee established similar requirements, however, they only applied to state agencies. On the other hand, the laws signed in on Tuesday expand the requirements to include all authorities, including the sharing of information regarding people in custody.

Lena Graber, an attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national NGO that tracks sanctuary cities, said that the new law is very significant, because the majority of police interactions are prone to occur at the city-county level, instead of state troopers, also because local police have always been targeted for cooperation requests by federal authorities, causing most deportations.

Graber said that the law makes Washington have “the strongest and most comprehensive state law on sanctuary in the country.”

Although the term “sanctuary state” is not defined exactly, other states with similar executive or state laws rules that restrict local and federal law enforcement include Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Oregon was the first state to implement state sanctuary laws in 1987, restricting police usage of resources to investigate people who are in the country illegally but haven’t committed other crimes.

In 2017, California passed stronger laws that would protect illegal immigrants, which included yearly reporting requirements and a regulation that made it mandatory for authorities to obtain written consent from arrested people prior to letting them be interviewed by immigration officers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.