A King County Superior Court commissioner on Monday temporarily halted an initiative repealing Burien's sanctuary city ordinance from progressing to the November ballot. The temporary restraining order marks the first legal win for Burien residents and immigrant rights activists against an anti-immigrant campaign funded by an organization with ties to white nationalists.
In January, the Burien City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting city employees and police from asking religious minorities and undocumented residents about their citizenship status or religious affiliation. The move came as the Trump administration started cracking down on undocumented immigrants. Six months later, a petition to repeal that ordinance, organized by former West Seattle Republican congressional candidate Craig Keller and his group Respect Washington, gained just enough signatures to force Keller's repeal initiative to a vote.
By August, the Burien City Council had voted to put the repeal initiative on the November ballot. The vote came amid a series of local elections characterized by Trump-style politics, including fear-mongering rhetoric about immigrant residents, and rising anxiety within those targeted groups. Respect Washington, the organization behind the initiative, is primarily funded by US Inc., an anti-immigrant group that publishes white nationalist literature, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Burien Communities for Inclusion, a coalition of Burien residents and immigrant rights activists, filed a lawsuit last Friday attempting to stop the initiative from moving forward. The initiative, as it happens, wouldn't just repeal the city's ordinance; it would also prohibit the City Council from regulating "the acquisition of immigration status or religious affiliation" unless approved by both a majority vote on the Council and a majority vote of the general electorate.
The lawsuit argues that this aspect of the initiative violates state law granting city governments the power to regulate their own affairs.
"Burien Initiative No. 1 is a grisly, flagrantly unlawful ballot measure," Dmitri Iglitzin, lead attorney for Burien Communities for Inclusion, told The Stranger. "Among other things, it requires the city to run any legislation it wants to adopt past a majority vote of the people. Even the City Council couldn't pass a law saying 'We have no power to pass a law unless we have majority vote of the people.'"
According to Iglitzin, the county has just until Thursday to send drafts of the November ballot to the printer. Taking this deadline into consideration, King County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Berns agreed to put the issue on her calendar for Wednesday morning. At that point, Burien Communities for Inclusion will press for a preliminary injunction—an order that would stop the initiative from going to the printing presses.
"I'm pleased that the magistrate saw the deficiencies of the initiative petition," Burien City Council Member Lauren Berkowitz, a vocal opponent of the Respect Washington initiative, said. "And I'm confident that the Superior Court judge will uphold the residents' challenges and keep this hateful initiative off the ballot."