Burien City Council Fails To Vote On Law Protecting Undocumented Immigrants

Jul 31, 2017

Updated at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1. Original story follows update.

The Burien City Council ended a meeting Monday night without taking a critical vote on the future of a local law aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants.

By failing to vote, City Council members missed an Aug. 1 deadline to put a repeal of the immigration law on the November ballot.

Burien leaders adjourned around 10:30 p.m., after supporters of the law interrupted the meeting with chants and a council member filibustered to prevent her colleagues from voting.

Burien's law, passed in a 4-3 vote of the council in January, prevents city staff and law enforcement from asking about a resident's immigration status or religious beliefs.

Opponents of the law got enough signatures on a petition to force a vote on a repeal. But the City Council needed to vote by Aug. 1 to put the initiative to voters on the general election ballot.

About a dozen supporters of the law, seeking to prevent the vote, broke out in chants, causing Burien Mayor Lucy Krakowiak to twice temporarily shut down the meeting.

At one point, police warned protesters that they could be removed from the meeting for causing disruptions.

Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz later spoke for about 20 minutes to prevent her colleagues from taking the vote. Four council members, a majority of the council, eventually agreed to adjourn.

The dramatic end to the meeting followed more than 90 minutes of emotional testimony from residents for and against the immigration law.

Supporters of the law say they hope to find a way to somehow invalidate enough signatures on the petition to cancel the initiative. The petition only got five signatures above the minimum required.

Craig Keller is a leader of the group Respect Washington, which is leading the repeal effort. He said he is exploring legal options for getting a repeal on the ballot.

Original story published at 3:40 p.m. Monday, July 31.

 Burien was part of a wave of cities this year to pass laws aimed protecting undocumented immigrants.

But, earlier this month, residents opposed to the law got enough signatures on a petition to force a vote on its repeal.

City leaders are poised to make a decision on the fate of the law at a special meeting Monday evening. 

City Council members have two choices: Repeal the law themselves or allow voters to decide in the general election in November.

If city leaders decide to put the question of repeal on the general election ballot, they will also appoint "pro" and "con" committees to draft statements for the voters' pamphlet. 

Supporters of the policy are planning to rally at Burien City Hall before the meeting. 

Burien's law, passed in a 4-3 vote in January, bars city staff and law-enforcement officers from asking about a resident's immigration status or religious beliefs.

Burien’s leaders didn’t want the label of a “sanctuary city,” so they avoided that term when they passed the law. But, in practice, it's similar to "sanctuary" policies in other cities. 

The law has the greatest effect on Burien's non-police employees. 

Burien contracts with the King County Sheriff's Department for police services, so the city's officers already followed the sheriff department's longstanding policy of not asking about a person's immigration status, said Burien spokeswoman Emily Inlow-Hood.

Respect Washington, a statewide group that advocates for policies aimed at fighting illegal immigration, led the effort to repeal Burien's law.

The group's website says the policy contributes to "lawlessness." 

Burien officials say the policy was meant to send a message that no one should fear reporting a crime or calling for help in an emergency. 

Opponents of Burien's policy got 3,648 valid signatures on their petition to repeal the law, exceeding a requirement of 3,643.