After two hours of emotional public testimony from dozens of immigrants and their allies in King County, the Burien City Council voted last night to leave it to residents to decide whether to repeal an ordinance protecting immigrants from local law enforcement questioning over their citizenship status.
The sanctuary city—or "safe city," as the language of the law itself does not use the term "sanctuary"—ordinance passed in January, and prohibits city employees, including police contracted from the King County Sheriff's Office, from asking about a person's immigration status or religious affiliation. While King County Sheriff John Urquhart has pledged to maintain King County's own version of the Burien ordinance no matter what the Seattle suburb does, his successors may not.
Just three people among dozens testified against the ordinance. They were Craig Keller, the twice-failed Republican congressional candidate from West Seattle who launched the petition, a local Trump supporter who regularly posts anti-Muslim memes who his Facebook page, and Chestine Edgar, the wife of Burien City Councilmember Bob Edgar, who called the sanctuary city ordinance a "cheap political trick."
Councilmember Bob Edgar, Burien Mayor Lucy Krakowiak, and Councilmember Debi Wagner all signed the petition to repeal the sanctuary city ordinance or put it to a vote on the November ballot. King County Elections verified that 3,648 Burien residents signed the petition, just five more signatures than the legal requirement to put the measure to a vote.
But despite the show of support for the original ordinance in Burien's City Hall chambers, primary election results suggest a real culture clash between nativist Burienites and its changing demographics.
According to the city's website, 40 percent of Burien's population is now nonwhite, with people who identify as Hispanic making up a quarter of the population. A new wave of Latinx candidates and their allies are running for a spot on the all-white Burien City Council, but primary results showed that the people running against these candidates brought in equal or more votes. Some supporters of candidates (and some candidates themselves) running against the wave of people of color sometimes identify as parts of movements called "Burien First" or "Burien Proud."
At one point during the meeting, Pedro Olguin, one of the candidates running for a Council spot reprimanded those who signed the repeal petition, including three existing City Council members.
"Don't be fooled," Olguin said. "You are racist, and you are a shame to our community. And I hope you feel that every single day of your lives."
At another point during public testimony, Tukwila School District counselor Jennifer Fichamba told the council members who signed the petition that they were "against my family." Fichamba, who was born and raised in Burien, explained that her son's father is a formerly undocumented immigrant. Fichamba's 14-year-old son, Matthew, wrote a speech in English and Quechua to present to the council on the importance of protecting immigrants like his dad, but became too emotional on his way up to the podium to continue.
"This petition is really an attack on the values of my family," Fichamba told The Stranger after her son left the room. "Council members that are running for reelection right now are using it as a political chess piece and are basically saying that families like mine are not welcome here."
Watch a West Seattle woman warn Burienites about a likely rise in hate crimes after the November election:
Watch Council Member Austin Bell explain why the sanctuary city ordinance is important: