Westside Republican seeks end to ‘sanctuary state’ policy

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OLYMPIA — State senator and 2020 gubernatorial candidate Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, is planning to drop a bill today that, if passed, would roll back “sanctuary state” protections for people in the country illegally.

The bill, which comes a month in advance of the upcoming legislative session, would require state employees to assist federal agencies with immigration enforcement and would bar cities from enacting their own sanctuary policies.

That proposal comes in response to the Keep Washington Working Act, which was signed into law in 2019 by Governor Jay Inslee, who is seeking reelection next year.

That legislation barred state employees during the course of their official duties from assisting federal law enforcement, such as by giving Border Patrol information on an undocumented immigrant like their home address or court dates.

In Grant County, that legislation barred the office of the county prosecutor from continuing to coordinate with immigration enforcement officials to facilitate courthouse arrests. County Prosecutor Garth Dano has previously said that while his office was abiding by that new law, he opposed it on principle.

“Even after the passage of (the Keep Washington Working Act), I disagree with those that say we shouldn’t cooperate with Border Patrol with the discharge of their duties,” Dano said.

“To the extent that ICE and Border Patrol are seeking to arrest those who have been previously deported or are criminal illegal aliens, I support that completely,” Dano added. “If I didn’t, I think I’d be faithless to my obligation to the citizens of Grant County who have been victimized by this portion of the illegal population.”

Immigrant’s rights advocates across the state decry the practice, saying it makes defendants who may be targeted less likely to appear in court.

Though states can’t stop federal agencies from pursuing undocumented immigrants, some like Washington have taken steps to stop local authorities from cooperating with immigration enforcement. This type of policy has become generically known as making a “sanctuary” city or state.

Oregon’s state Supreme Court went a step further earlier this month, barring federal immigration agents from entering county courthouses without a warrant. That decision was criticized by U.S. Attorney General William Barr in a letter which stated that federal law enforcement did not need to abide by the rule change.

In his own letter to Inslee, Fortunato recently argued that courthouses were one of the safest places for these arrests to take place because defendants were unarmed, and that sanctuary state policies had put law enforcement and civilians at risk.

Fortunato expects to introduce legislation Monday to rollback those policies, which he said in an interview protected dangerous criminals.

“These guys are illegal criminals,” Fortunato said. “What is the most common crime? Eighty percent is drunk driving and domestic violence. So who are you protecting? You’re protecting drunk driving and wife beaters, and on top of that the violent criminals who are rapists and armed robbers and the other stuff.”

State Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, who was the primary sponsor of the Keep Washington Working Act, said in an interview that Fortunato mischaracterized her bill.

“We do not in any way prevent the police from going after violent criminals,” Wellman said. “We’re not talking about people here who are undocumented with a traffic ticket, we’re talking violent crimes. In those cases, we give our police officers our full support.”

Wellman points to a letter that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs sent to her office voicing their support for the legislation before it passed.

“Our membership feels strongly that every person in all communities across our state should feel safe contacting law enforcement, particularly those who have been a victim of crime,” the WASPC wrote. “Our membership also feels strongly that law enforcement should retain all authority to enforce criminal laws and cooperate with our law enforcement partners on criminal investigations. It was with these principles that we negotiated with you and other proponents of your bill.”

Wellman also said Fortunato’s criticisms of the bill misses the point. The act wasn’t really about protecting undocumented immigrants, she said, but rather to prevent aggressive immigration enforcement from making Washington less attractive to foreign talent and to intimidate workers in the country legally.

“Within my district and my area we have many immigrants here on work visas, it’s really the cornerstone and the energy of our economy,” Wellman said. “I was hearing stories from Microsoft that if people are uncomfortable living here and coming to our state, they can move to British Columbia.”

“I talked to others, like the tree fruit growers, who have a very vested interest in seeing a sensible policy,” Wellman added.

Wellman and Fortunato agree that the bill has little chance of passing next year in the Democratically-controlled legislature, a point Fortunato intends to make a part of his 2020 platform.

“There was a piece by KOMO News 4, and they interviewed a Democrat, and they said there’s absolutely no support in the Democratic Legislature,” Fortunato said. “You know what? I’m going to take that clip, and that’s going to be the clip for 2020.”

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