Evan Thompson / The Record — Langley City Councilwoman Dominique Emerson discusses the Langley Ethics Training and Advisory Board’s recommendation regarding Langley becoming a sanctuary city.

Sanctuary city talks resume at Langley City Hall

If there is anyone opposed to Langley becoming a sanctuary city, their voices haven’t been heard at City Hall.

Tuesday night marked the second time advocates for the proposal crowded the Langley City Council chambers to voice their approval and the second no-show of those opposed.

City Councilwoman Dominique Emerson, who told The Record in a previous interview that she would support Langley becoming a sanctuary city, said she was disappointed that no residents or community members spoke up against it.

“I know there are people in this room who are not in favor of this,” Emerson said. “They don’t feel comfortable saying their piece.”

The city’s ethics board, however, provided guidance that the city council should avoid adopting sanctuary status. The city’s attorney, Mike Kenyon of Issaquah-based Kenyon Disend, also agreed with this assessment.

The city council has not yet formed a resolution or ordinance regarding a sanctuary city policy, which would protect undocumented immigrants from police profiling. Another round of discussion is likely to take place at the city council’s meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 at City Hall. The city council may also elect to adopt a resolution or ordinance at that time.

The idea was first proposed by a pair of Langley residents in November and taken into consideration by the city council. A slew of residents, around 50 people, attended a meeting on Dec. 19 to lobby the council to make Langley a sanctuary city.

Adding to Emerson’s sentiments, Councilwoman Ursula Shoudy said that while people have told her privately that they don’t support the proposal, they also said they don’t feel comfortable coming to City Hall to express their opinions for fear of judgment. Shoudy said she hopes people will behave respectfully during later discussions and that it will aid the council in its decision down the road.

“We have been voted in to listen to everybody’s opinion and that’s our job,” Shoudy said.

The ethics board, represented by Chairman Bob Frause and member Sharon Betcher on Tuesday night, recommended in a written opinion the city council temporarily table a decision to declare Langley a sanctuary city “in favor of adopting one of two ethically prudent alternative options.”

The first option recommended Mayor Tim Callison issue an executive order stating the city’s intent to affirm the city’s ethical principles and values — which are already approved in the code of ethics adopted by the city council — without directly declaring Langley a sanctuary city.

The second option recommended the city council use the same language as proposed for the executive order, but to also pass a resolution reaffirming it. Both options would allow the city to be in a position to consider becoming a sanctuary city at a later date.

In its recommendation, the ethics board also stated that the declaration of a sanctuary city could result in “ethical quandaries” when putting “Langley police or public officials in conflict with their own ethical codes of conducts or laws that they are sworn to uphold.” It could also cause problems with the confidentiality and principles section of the code of ethics in regards to disclosure, the document said.

Kenyon said from a legal standpoint, it’s a “pretty simple issue” and that it is almost entirely one of politics and public policy.

“There is no federal law, there is no state law that either prohibits or permits sanctuary city status,” Kenyon said.

He recommended the city council take a similar step or even identical to the one proposed by the ethics board.

“Your ethics board on this opinion serves you and the community very well,” Kenyon said. “The board steered through some nearly unnavigable waters and came up with a recommendation to you that would remove any legal risk that might exist.”

Kenyon said that while there is some legal risk for the city council and city officials in adopting a sanctuary city status, it is unlikely to occur because of Langley’s small size as compared to other big cities who have adopted the policy, such as Seattle.

While the ethics board’s opinion was applauded for its opinion by Kenyon, Langley resident Ed Anderson criticized it.

“The other thing I find a little bit odd is that the ethical committee would be worried about creating ethical conflicts,” Anderson said. “…You have to stand up as an individual and decide which side of a conflict you’re going to be on.”

“I don’t find that ethics committee argument to be particularly compelling,” he added.

A citizens’ group named Sanctuary Langley also presented at the meeting. Like other residents who spoke up on Tuesday night, the citizens’ group represented by Fran Abel and Belinda Griswold advocated for Langley becoming a sanctuary city so it could defend those possibly at risk if President Donald Trump follows through with promises during his campaign to deport millions of illegal immigrants.

Around a dozen residents and community members used the public comment period as an opportunity to express their views in favor of the policy, and echoed one another in their hopes that Langley will be a beacon of light in a climate of fear caused by Trump.

Callison suggested the city council reach out to their constituents to ensure all voices are heard.

“It’s a big issue and I think it’s worthy of strong consideration and thought,” Callison said. “…We certainly have a strongly favorable opinion for taking a positive action on their view of sanctuary city. But I think you need to try and outreach within the city and find out what the rest of the residents feel.”

Evan Thompson / The Record — Attendees at a Langley City Council meeting on Tuesday night listen to Belinda Griswold of the citizens’ group Sanctuary Langely.

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