Burien residents won’t vote in November on repealing the city’s sanctuary law after all.
A superior court judge on Thursday blocked King County election officials from printing a ballot asking Burienites whether they want to do away with an ordinance prohibiting city employees from collecting information about people’s religion or immigration status. The repeal effort was pushed by a group called Respect Washington and funded by a Michigan organization with ties to white nationalists.
The decision is a victory for a pro-immigrant group that filed a legal challenge to the ballot measure this month, arguing that the sanctuary policy is an administrative issue outside the scope of elections. The group also argued that the petition used to gather signatures for the measure was invalid because it because it contained “non-objective” anti-immigrant propaganda. Several community members submitted declarations saying the measure has already caused harm, creating an environment in which immigrants are afraid to leave their homes.
In her decision, Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Berns agreed. “Plaintiff has established a clear legal right, a well-grounded fear of immediate invasion of that right, and that the action sought to be enjoined will result in actual substantial injury,” Berns wrote.
Richard Stephens, the attorney representing Respect Washington, said in a phone interview that he does not plan to appeal the decision. King County ballots get printed today.
The Burien City Council adopted its so-called sanctuary policy in January, as President Trump came into office promising to ramp up deportations and block travel to the United States from Muslim-majority countries.
Six months later, an anti-immigrant group called Respect Washington gathered enough signatures for a ballot measure that would repeal the sanctuary ordinance. Respect Washington received most of its funding from US Inc, a Michigan-based anti-immigrant group. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, US Inc regularly publishes writing from white nationalists.
In August, the Burien City Council voted to place the measure on the November ballot. When asked whether they were concerned about the funding from US Inc and white nationalists, city council members either did not respond, condemned hate speech, or questioned the premise that US Inc is an anti-immigrant group.
Respect Washington’s attorney, Stephens, said he did not “have information” to know the views of the group’s funders. Approached outside a courtroom on Wednesday, he told The Stranger that white nationalist ties “would concern me.”
“But I’m not here because I’m in favor of [the sanctuary repeal measure]. I’m here because I favor people being allowed to vote."