Welcoming immigrants and refugees

In King County, 1 in 5 adults was not born in the U.S. In light of the President’s executive orders regarding federal immigration laws, many in our immigrant and refugee communities are uncertain about the extent to which local governments cooperate with federal immigration agents. Across the US, cities, counties, and states have declared themselves “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Seattle and King County prefer the term Welcoming City and Welcoming County, respectively, which, according to Seattle’s broad definition, means prioritizing “policies, actions, and practices that help immigrant and refugee communities succeed.”


Q. What’s an example of these “policies, actions, and practices”?

Although details differ, a “welcoming” designation generally signals that a government does not use jurisdictional time/resources to target residents on the basis of immigration status. In most cases, government employees (including police) will not ask residents about their immigration or citizenship status. While these “don’t ask” policies protect residents’ privacy, they also protect government employees, who cannot be compelled to disclose information they do not have. This restriction can be negated, however, by a court order, or by “reasonable suspicion” that a person has been previously deported and has committed a felony.

Q. What policies are followed at King County detention facilities?

King County limits compliance with federal immigration requests to hold prisoners beyond the time when they should legally be released. The County will only honor “detainer requests” that are accompanied by a criminal warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate. This policy is consistent both with federal law and a 2014 King County ordinance.

Q: What is the intention of declaring status as a welcoming jurisdiction?

Backers of “welcoming” policies believe they make communities safer. Why? Because residents are more likely to report crimes, testify in court, and call for help when they need it if police are under orders not to ask about immigration status. In addition, welcoming jurisdictions want to assure people of different religions, races, and national origins that they are welcome and should continue to seek assistance at public health clinics and other government facilities.

Q. Do crime rates in these jurisdictions support the “safer communities” rationale?

Yes, according to a recent analysis of FBI crime reports. After controlling for population characteristics, sanctuary or welcoming cities averaged 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 population. These findings support the conclusion of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, representing the 68 largest law enforcement agencies in the country, that mixing local law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”

Q. How can immigrants get accurate information about their rights?

This week the King County Council approved $750,000 to support immigrant and refugee communities’ needs for legal assistance, information about their rights, and (in partnership with The Seattle Foundation) capacity-building of community-based organizations. In addition, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an ordinance setting aside $1 million to create a legal defense fund for immigrants and refugees. Access to information about these and other resources is available through:
 Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
Welcoming Immigrant and Refugee Communities (King County)
 The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which has a wealth of information on its website, including a new advisory for non-profit and social service organizations seeking to protect their clients.
 A hyperlinked list of (mostly) King County cities with ordinances, resolutions, and proclamations that they “promote safe, welcoming, and inclusive communities.”