Burien voters will decide whether to revoke “sanctuary city” law

Burien City Hall. (Photo by Burien Parks via Flickr.)

Burien voters will be asked whether to repeal a city law that prohibits city officials and law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status or religion.

More than 3,600 people — including the city’s Mayor Lucy Krakowiak and two other council members — signed the petition to repeal the ordinance, which many call a “sanctuary city” law.

Because the petition had enough signatures to be certified by the county, the Burien City Council had to either revoke its own sanctuary city law or ask voters whether to repeal the law. The council voted 6-0 and to put it on the ballot. Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz abstained.

It is unclear whether the vote will be in November. The city missed an Aug. 1 deadline to get it on the general election ballot, but the King County Elections office raised the possibility that it might extend the deadline.

The petition was started by Republican politician Craig Keller, of West Seattle.

At the previous week’s city of Burien meeting, when the petition was presented, Keller cited violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants as the reason behind the support.

“I figure I’m just a messenger to just over 3,643 Burien residents [who signed the petition],” Keller said. “There is injustice done by illegal aliens.”

Mayor Krakowiak and Councilmember Bob Edgar and Debi Wagner signed Keller’s petition. They also were the only three council members who opposed adopting the sanctuary city policies in January.

The law blocking officials from asking about immigration status and religion is similar to ones in other cities, including Seattle. Federal officials have challenged cities with such policies.

The majority of public speakers who attended both meetings opposed the petition. Many said that Burien’s diversity — the city is 40 percent nonwhite and a quarter Hispanic — gives the city a unique personality, especially compared to Seattle.

Burien resident Pat Migliore said at last week’s meeting that revoking the sanctuary city ordinance would also revoke human rights from immigrants, such as basic protections from the police.

“People who are not documented are already having a hard time as it is, living in an undocumented way,” Migliore said. “I fear that we will look at more cases of unreported domestic violence, sexual assault, and a lot of things that go unreported simply because of the fear that they may have of being deported.”

Burien resident James Hamer said he was misinformed and he signed the petition not knowing that the petition had the potential to revoke Burien’s status as sanctuary city.

“I signed it because I thought it was strictly to get the initiative on the ballot, not to just remove it from Burien being a sanctuary city,” Hamer said “If I had known that was an option I would not have signed it.”

Philip Irvin said he supported repealing the sanctuary city status, but said he wasn’t racist.

“There is a little issue that is kind of forgotten and that is we are talking about illegal immigration,” Irvin said. “This is a crime that a person has committed in coming into this country without the appropriate documentation. If Burien is going to protect [being a sanctuary city], why doesn’t it protect all other crime as well?”

Keller said the turnout of the public speakers is not a representation of the sample of Burien residents and that the election will prove out.

“It doesn’t faze me, just like it didn’t faze Dr. King,” Keller said after last week’s meeting. “That’s where I take inspiration.”

But Alycia Ramirez, an immigration and civil rights activist from Indivisible North Seattle, told the audience that she questioned the premise that undocumented immigrants are a danger.

She said her husband, who is undocumented, is a law-abiding business owner.

“No undocumented citizen that I know is a criminal,” Ramirez said. “It just makes me so angry because we’re good people. It is wrong to call us criminals. We are human beings.”