The sanctuary city topic in Langley has dominated headlines in The Record over the past few weeks as the community debates its many complexities.
Everything from the potential violation of oaths of office by city officials to a Langley city councilman’s claim that the city’s existing code of ethics already qualifies Langley as a sanctuary city are points of contention. Other areas of debate have included whether the 10th Amendment provides public officials immunity from violating their oaths of office, if the federal government can pull funding from sanctuary cities, what the ramifications of declaring Langley a sanctuary city would be and the level of cooperation between police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
On a national scale, President Donald Trump’s executive order to cut federal funding from cities that declare sanctuary city status has also spurred debate. The city of San Francisco became the first city in the United States to file a lawsuit over Trump’s executive order in January, which was deemed as unconstitutional by the city’s attorney.
Advocates on South Whidbey are lobbying for the Langley City Council to approve an ordinance formally preventing city employees from collecting information on any resident’s immigration status, religious beliefs, or nationality or from using city resources to enforce federal immigration law.
The Record set out this week to clarify at least a few of the misconceptions swirling around the sanctuary city discussion.
Oaths of office
Advocates have challenged city officials’ concerns that adopting sanctuary city status would violate their oaths of office. The oath requires city officials to “support and maintain all valid ordinances of the City of Langley, the laws and Constitution of the State of Washington, and of the United States of America,” according to a city document.
Mayor Tim Callison believes adopting a sanctuary city status would put city officials in jeopardy of violating their oaths.
“A lot of people are saying that this decision would not put us in conflict of our oaths of office, but this is clearly in our oath that we’ll uphold the federal constitution,” Callison said.
Callison cited the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act, specifically pointing out “U.S. Code 1373 – Communication between government agencies and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.” A section of the code instructs local government officials to not prohibit the flow of information regarding the “citizenship” or “immigration status” from reaching the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
“Passing any ordinance(s) which abridges this section of the law would put all office holders in violation of their oaths and subject to removal from office,” Callison wrote.
Others disagree with Callison’s assertion.
Michael Scott of the Bainbridge Island City Council and Lauren Berkowitz of the Burien City Council — two cities which have declared sanctuary city status — told The Record in separate interviews that is a false argument and that it has not come up as an issue in the days following their cities’ decisions. Scott and Berkowitz championed “Welcoming City” and sanctuary city ordinances for their respective cities.
“The executive order is not law,” Scott said. “It can’t direct me or our police department to do anything.”
A city council would not be acting against the federal government by collectively saying it won’t enforce the federal government’s job, Berkowitz said.
“There’s a huge difference between upholding the law and enforcing the law,” Berkowitz said.
Hugh Spitzer, a law professor at the University of Washington, said there is wriggle room for city officials. After examining the city’s oath of office document, he noted in an email that it does not require “a positive duty on the part of local officials to carry out federal laws.”
“So, while Langley officials could not stop ICE personnel from visiting the city and looking for undocumented workers, the city can make a policy decision that, as a welcoming community, it does not wish to devote limited city resources to helping ICE officers from locating visitors from other countries, or to hold people in City custody upon the request of ICE,” Spitzer wrote.
In response to Spitzer’s observation, Callison said there is a fine line between carrying out federal law and obeying it, as there may be future immigration laws that require obedience “of some sort.”
During a recent community sanctuary city meeting attended by nearly 200 people, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Mary Barbieri said there is separation of power between the federal government and states, and that the federal government cannot make states enforce immigration laws.
Spitzer also stated this to be true, citing U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist’s ruling in Printz v. United States. The judge concluded that local police officials cannot be forced by federal law to perform background checks on people who purchased handguns in their area and forward that information to the U.S. Department.
“This was indeed a 10th Amendment case,” Spitzer wrote. “Rehnquist made it crystal clear that the federal government is a government of limited powers and that the federal government cannot use the states to carry out its tasks unless they choose voluntarily to do so. This is at the heart of federalism.”
Despite defying Trump’s executive order by adopting sanctuary city ordinances, there have been no dramatic changes in the cities of Burien and Bainbridge Island. The cities’ police departments did not inquire about the documentation of its citizens prior to adopting sanctuary city status, so day-to-day operations have not been altered, according to city council members Berkowitz and Scott. Both do not expect an influx of immigrants to arrive at their doorsteps either.
The only thing different in Bainbridge Island is the mood, Scott said.
“In a time of great frustration and discouragement happening nationally, it felt empowering and cathartic for our city to resoundingly affirm these values,” Scott said.
Berkowitz said declaring Burien a sanctuary city will actually make the city safer, as crime reporting is expected to increase among communities that used to stay silent for fear of deportation.
“People aren’t afraid of getting deported or getting their and families turned in,” Berkowitz said. “That’s one of the arguments, that it makes the city safer by increasing the trust.”
“It feels like we’re more actively representing our citizens, our residents of Burien than we ever did before,” she added.
Police interaction with ICE officials
Chief David Marks said Langley police haven’t worked with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. He also said nothing would happen if police learned a person is an illegal immigrant.
“I don’t know a law that would require us to report it,” Marks said. “We don’t inquire about immigration status. That’s been our practice.”
The police department assists federal agencies on a regular basis, but police department resources cannot be commandeered for the agencies’ purposes, he said.
Marks said he envisioned it would be the same if ICE officials came to the city.
“We’re required to by law to assist them,” Marks said. “They can’t commandeer us and order us to do their work for them.”
Jose Briones, Island County Jail’s chief administrator, said his department would not act if it discovered a detainee was an illegal immigrant. In fact, Briones said, Island County Jail has had several people in custody in the past two years that were “not likely” legally in the country.
The only time interaction with ICE officials would occur is if a detainee was wanted for a felony, he said.
“We do not deal in immigration and detainers in deporting people out of the country for that sole purpose,” Briones said. “There needs to be a criminal felony involved.”
Callison said the police department, which has only four police officers, is limited in its resources and that it couldn’t assist ICE officials even if they came to Langley.
“I don’t think they would have the time or the energy to work on immigration issues within the city of Langley with ICE,” Callison said. “We’re in such a small town. Why would they need the help of the (Langley) police?”
Because of this, Callison also views an ordinance that would explicitly instruct police to not cooperate with immigration officers in detaining or holding illegal citizens as pointless.
“We don’t do it now,” Callison said. “I don’t see a big increase in the resources within Langley City government that would allow us to have the resources in the future, certainly not the foreseeable future.”
A section of the city’s code of ethics in chapter 1.25 has been a source of debate, particularly the line that says the city is “committed to generating a place of hospitality for diverse sexual, economic, ethnic and religious expressions of self and family. We refuse the mental habit of casting difference in negative value.”
It is this section that Councilman Bruce Allen cites when asserting that Langley is already a sanctuary city. It was also questioned by Belinda Griswold of the community advocacy group “Inclusive Langley,” formerly known as “Sanctuary Langley.”
“We’re already doing what that stuff’s supposed to tell us what to do,” Allen said.
“We don’t need a law as far as I’m concerned. And nobody is going to convince me otherwise. It’s inclusive. It puts everybody in the same position. We’re going to treat everybody the same.”
The fact he is an openly gay man is a prime example for inclusiveness in Langley, he said.
“I went to the city council as a gay person,” Allen said. “Everybody in the city knew it. I joined the Rod and Gun Club as a gay man. I’ve never had any retribution from anybody.”
While Langley is a welcoming community, Griswold said city code does not address the heart of the issue.
“It’s not enough because nothing in our current code prevents city employees from gathering this type of information from people,” Griswold said.