King County Immigration Ordinance an Example to All

On February 26th, King County Council members voted to pass Ordinance, 2017-0487, also known as “Enhancing Trust and Fairness for King County Immigrant Communities”. A victory was made this day when a majority of the council voted 6:3, in favor of passing this legislation. OneAmerica is proud to witness our local government support the public safety and inclusion of ALL members within King County. This victory would not have been possible without the diligence of community members, partner organizations, and our local politicians. The support of Council Member and prime sponsor of the policy Larry Gossett, Council President McDermott, Council Member Upthegrove, County Executive Constantine, and the King County’s Office of Equity and Social Justice were all contributory to the ordinance’s passage.

The ordinance was first introduced to the council in November 2017 and was then passed onto the Law and Justice Committee. Enoka Herat, a board member for OneAmerica, and countless other organizational partners were instrumental in the drafting of the ordinance. In the Spring of 2017, OneAmerica staff was already advocating alongside Emi Yoko, Washington Community Action Network’s Auburn community organizer, for the City of Auburn to have “sanctuary status”. The fight for Auburn to be declared a sanctuary city continued, eventually lending itself to the supporting of the King County ordinance.

This piece of legislation is unlike anything else in the nation. The language used to draft this ordinance was based on a similar policy circulated by the Center for Popular Democracy, a national nonprofit that seeks to strengthen organizational capacity to advocate for equitable public policy. The primary organizations that participated in the drafting of the ordinance included the Washington Defenders Association, the Public Defenders Association, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Colectiva Legal, ACLU, and OneAmerica. The purpose of the ordinance being to both increase trust between local government and communities, while also ensuring equitable access to services regardless of citizenship status.

Two areas of concern addressed by this ordinance were mentioned during public comment at the council meeting on February 26th: public safety and language access. Numerous individuals provided public support for the ordinance, all of which can be seen on recorded video from the session. The video and notes from the meeting are available for public access by searching King County Council’s legislation page, or by clicking here.

Two leaders representing OneAmerica provided powerful testimonies before the council — Mary September and Maribel Montes De Oca. Mary told a story of an incident when she came across a young girl who was seemingly home alone, sustaining an injury on her face. As a mandated reporter, Mary alluded to the dilemma she incurred during this circumstance, asking herself the question: “What action can I take that would best guarantee the safety and well being of this child”? In the end, she could not guarantee that calling the police or child protective services would provide such safety. Mary’s story represents countless circumstances where individuals and families may risk personal or public safety, in efforts to avoid interaction with immigration enforcement. In support of another piece of the ordinance, Maribel provided a part of her testimony in Spanish, emphasizing that language access needs to be a priority when discussing equitable access for immigrants and refugees.

The ordinance includes a section that outlines the responsibility of the county and any contracted agency to provide free translation and interpretation services. In addition, the county is charged with developing a plan for the translation of “vital documents and public communications materials”. The county executive needs to submit a plan of action for the language assistance portion of the ordinance to the county council by September 30, 2018.

Rich Stolz, OneAmerica’s Executive Director, expressed the victory this ordinance signifies:

“King County Ordinance 0487 stands as an example for all counties on how to fairly and respectfully serve all residents. We thank the council-members who voted yes on this historic ordinance, and the hundreds of faith, labor and civil rights advocates who stood up and demanded respectful and responsible use of county resources that are designed to benefit all residents”.

We will continue to empower our immigrant and refugee community members to demand their human right to safety, welfare, and freedom


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