Urban Politics #145: New INS Legislation Proposed

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

With assistance from Lisa Herbold, Legislative Assistant

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • New INS Legislation Proposed
  • The Licata Amendment
  • Why Change The Law Now?
  • Civil Immigration Laws Must Be Enforced By The Ins

New INS Legislation Proposed

On Tuesday, December 10 in my Neighborhood, Arts, and Civil Rights Committee I will be introducing legislation that codifies for the City of Seattle the historical relationship between city officials, namely law enforcement and social service providers, and the federal Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). This is a long-standing relationship that although it isn’t codified in federal law is well established in legal precedent.

Eight other jurisdictions, cities from New York to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to the state of Oregon have laws or policies similar to what I propose. These jurisdictions have decided to establish policies that define what kind of cooperation is legally required by current federal law and what kind of cooperation can compromise the mission of local law enforcement and social service departments.

The Licata Amendment

My legislation amends SMC 4.18, which currently reads “City officers and employees are directed to cooperate with, and not hinder, enforcement of federal immigration laws.” by clarifying what level of cooperation is required by current federal law. Here’s the text:

WHEREAS, the city of Seattle is comprised of immigrants throughout the world who contribute to Seattle’s social vivacity and cultural richness; and

WHEREAS, Seattle has been a city that traditionally respects the rights of and provides equal services to all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status; and

WHEREAS, the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has left immigrant communities of color in a crisis of safety, insofar as members of such communities are afraid to access essential benefits to which they are entitled, for fear of being reported to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); and

WHEREAS, the Seattle Police Department issued a Directive on June 6, 2002, providing guidelines as to when officers shall and shall not request information regarding and initiate action on the basis of an individual’s immigration status; and

WHEREAS, all Seattle City officials and employees should be afforded analogous guidance with respect to providing services to all residents regardless of immigration status; and

WHEREAS, other states and cities in the United States have passed similar legislation, and as such the City Council’s action is an important part of a nation-wide effort to define the realms of local and federal jurisdiction with respect to the enforcement of civil immigration laws; and

WHEREAS, the amendment to Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 4.18.010 is wholly consistent with federal laws regarding localities’ responsibilities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities;

And WHEREAS, clarifying the meaning of SMC 4.18.010 by amending it to include additional language is an effective way to guide city officials and employees to adhere to federal law while ensuring the safety and health of all members of our community.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SEATTLE, THE MAYOR CONCURRING, THAT: SMC 4.18.010 Cooperation with enforcement of federal immigration laws is amended to read:

1. City officers and employees are directed to cooperate with, and not hinder, enforcement of federal laws.

2. Unless otherwise required by law, or by court order, no Seattle City officer or employee shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person.

3. Law Enforcement Exception: (a) Seattle city police officers are exempted from the limitations imposed by section (1) where an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe: (i) an individual has previously been deported; (ii) is again present in the United States; and, (iii) is committing or has committed a felony criminal law violation.

4. Nothing in this ordinance shall be construed to prohibit any Seattle City officer or employee from cooperating with Federal immigration authorities as required or permitted by law.

Why Change The Law Now?

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) under the Bush administration has been considering a new policy that promotes the opinion that local law enforcement has “inherent authority” to enforce civil immigration laws. This policy would grant discretion to the local police to turn over cases to INS if there is “probable cause,” including information from informants or a notice of “suspicious” behavior. The DOJ also is contemplating allowing INS to oversee local law enforcement, despite the fact that not only is there a major reorganization of INS proposed, but INS has history of inefficiency and has been subject to accusations of abusing its authority.

The current Seattle Municipal Code will continue to allow local police to assist immigration officials. The federal legal requirement to cooperate with INS is limited to enforcement of criminal immigration violations. Federal law does not require local police to assist in civil immigration enforcement. Courts have found that state/local police do not have authority to enforce civil immigration violations. Also a 1996 DOJ Legal Opinion held local police do not have authority to enforce civil immigration violations and that immigration is a federal responsibility.

Civil Immigration Laws Must Be Enforced By The Ins, Not Local Government

There is evidence that shows that non-INS enforcement makes it more difficult for immigrant communities to trust the local police department. Fewer witnesses may come forward or report suspicious activity. This may result in more crimes going unreported, endangering all citizens. Crime victims, particularly domestic violence victims, may be discouraged from calling police.

Immigration enforcement would stretch limited police resources, which again may result in diminished police protection for other residents. Finally, Federal immigration law is complicated and constantly changing. Understanding it requires extensive training and expertise; INS agents require a 17-week basic training. Local law enforcement is trained to solve crimes, not determine immigration status.

New DOJ Policy could increase civil rights lawsuits. Police enforcement of civil immigration laws has led to lawsuits in other jurisdictions. For instance, Chandler, Arizona faced a $35 million dollar suit for harassment and detention of citizens who “looked Mexican” In this case, the plaintiff settled for $400,000 and the passage of a law like the one I propose.

Many people from a broad spectrum of perspectives agree that the proposed DOJ Policy is fundamentally flawed. Electeds who have taken positions opposing this proposal include: Dick Gephardt (D), Rudy Guilliani (R), Richard Riordan (R), Richard Daly (D), and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. There are Police Departments & Associations in NY, Chicago, LA, Denver, Sacramento & San Diego CA, WA DC, Hillsboro OR, Miami & Lake County FL, Nashville TN, Austin, Dallas & San Antonio TX, and Whatcom County WA that have taken positions opposing the proposed DOJ policy change.

Keep in touch…


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Time January 4, 2014 at 5:34 pm

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