Councilman’s take on sanctuary city status | GUEST OP

  • Wednesday, June 7, 2017 5:30pm
  • Opinion

By John Holman/For the Auburn Reporter

Let’s talk about “sanctuary city” from the perspective of the middle, whose voices are often overpowered by the firebrands on the opposite ends of the issue.

First, thank you to the individuals who came before council, met with us individually and offered emotional and respectful testimony. I do not doubt the suffering felt in my community. My job, however, demanding I remember that the decision I make could affect Auburn’s 80,000 people, means it has to be measured, accurate, lawful and do no harm or result in unintended consequences.

I am a long-standing supporter of universal human rights and inclusionary practices. The Auburn City Council passed a resolution in 2008 declaring the city of Auburn an “inclusive” city, as seen on some of our welcome to Auburn signs. This action predates the sanctuary movement by several years. In this resolution are statements about how city employees will treat each other, the residents of and visitors to Auburn, with dignity and respect.

When I was a police officer, I arrested many people for committing crimes and never once asked about their immigration status. I had no reason to ask. The other day a retired State Patrol lieutenant and I were talking with some young Auburn officers. I asked them if they had ever asked someone about their immigration status. Their answer was what I had expected: “Why would we?”

In my opinion, both sides of the argument are manipulating the sanctuary issue. Cops arrest people for violating local, county, state and federal criminal laws within their jurisdiction (the state of Washington). We do not serve civil process orders; the sheriff and his/her deputies do that. For instance: a landlord can move to have a tenant in Auburn evicted. A sheriff’s deputy gets the order to serve on the renter. If the deputy gets in trouble, we respond to prevent violence, and that’s all.

What has this to do with immigration status? Everything. “Unlawful presence” is a federal civil infraction, not a crime. There is no corresponding or similar Washington state, King County or City of Auburn law. There can’t be. The federal government alone has the authority to enact immigration law. Some states recently tried and a federal court overturned their state and local laws because the state lacked “standing.” So if Auburn were to enact any immigration ordinance, we, too, would lack standing. I think the court’s ruling against Arizona’s law was a good thing, and that protecting Auburn residents from inhuman and unjustified deportation is good.

A city cop cannot arrest an individual for overstaying his/her student visa. Or tourist visa. Or for having no visa at all. So why would I ever inquire about residency status? If it came to my attention that an individual was in this country without legal status, the most I could do would be to detain “for a reasonable amount of time” and call U.S. Immigration to pick the fellow up. Immigration agents in the Seattle area do not ordinarily come and pick up detainees from local cops. We would end up watching an individual, and ICE would seldom respond.

Let me stress, if someone commits a crime and is caught, they get booked into jail. Once booked, that individual’s records become visible to the feds. If they want him, they have the right to come and get him, but they seldom do. We do not “hold” prisoners for Immigration to pick up. Police release people when they have served their time. If Immigration is not there then, he or she walks. According to the SCORE jail, Immigration shows up only about two or three times a year.

Police enter an arrestee’s fingerprints and basic information into a computer data base. True identity, trial dates, defense attorneys, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, medical staff, even the individual’s release date — depend on it. The feds can link to this information and pick up that person.

There is, however, a criminal part of the federal immigration law. It is called “Improper Entry” as opposed to the civil “Unlawful Presence.” So, do local cops arrest people for Improper Entry? Not likely. It’s a misdemeanor. With few exceptions, a cop cannot arrest someone for a misdemeanor committed outside of that cop’s presence. It’s not enough merely to know; the officer must personally witness the illegal act. How could an Auburn cop witness an individual improperly entering the U.S. in Auburn?

It is pointless to declare our cops shall not ask about one’s immigration status – they already don’t. It would be equally pointless to pass an ordinance saying our cops will always inquire about immigration status. We don’t have the tools or legal authority to act on that information. It is far more important to declare that our city government expects that all people be treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless.

What came before the council on Monday, May 15 were a proposed ordinance and a resolution, having almost identical language offering support for Auburn to remain an inclusive city. Both directed all people be treated with dignity and respect. Neither document uses the term “sanctuary city” or mandates that an officer or city employee disregard the law. A municipal ordinance, however, is a rule, law or statute adopted by a municipal legislative body; a resolution is a formal expression of the opinion or will of an official municipal body adopted by a vote.

What I want, and I think what most of my neighbors want, is for all human beings to be treated with dignity and respect and equally subject to the rule of law. That statement is more fitting in a resolution. It is wrong to say an ordinance gives more “weight and importance” to an issue than a resolution. With a resolution, city departments, including police, will craft policies and procedures that guide their service delivery and conduct to residents.

To try and craft that same sort of language into a rule, law or statute is a misuse or a misunderstanding of an ordinance’s purpose. That is, I could not support or vote for a rule, law or statute that mandates you treat me with dignity and respect. While I support ordinances that mandate you not punch me in the nose, I cannot vote for an ordinance that demands you like me.

John Holman serves on the Auburn City Council. Reach him at 253-261-5384 or

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