The Yakima City Council recently took the first step in crafting a resolution to designate Yakima a “welcoming city,” which could mean law enforcement and city employees would not ask residents about their immigration status.

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YAKIMA — No matter the form a declaration may take, many on the Yakima City Council want the public to rest assured that local law enforcement isn’t helping the federal government address illegal immigration — something echoed by nearly 300 sanctuary cities nationwide.

The city recently took the first step in crafting a resolution to designate Yakima a “welcoming city,” which could mean law enforcement and city employees would not ask residents about their immigration status.

Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez said this would be a ceremonial measure that puts into writing procedures already practiced by the Yakima Police Department. For fellow Councilwoman Avina Gutierrez, the step is an important show of solidarity to the city’s residents who may be living in fear of deportation.

“There needs to be equal protection and equal treatment for everyone and I think that’s what we’re trying to establish,” she said.

Yakima’s decision to explore the designation follows actions of many cities in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to crack down on illegal immigration, minority populations and sanctuary cities as a result of a killing by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco.

But recent history aside, city governments have acted before to protect residents regardless of their citizenship status.

Sanctuary cities were first introduced during the 1980s when churches would offer shelter to Central American immigrants fleeing wars in their home countries who were not granted refugee status by the U.S. government, said Hiroshi Motomura, professor and specialist on immigration, citizenship and refugees at the UCLA School of Law and author of “Immigration Outside the Law.” Some cities then followed suit to grant citywide protections for these people.

Los Angeles joined this movement in 1989, expanding the sanctuary-city designation to prevent local law enforcement from being used to aid federal efforts to determine and act on a person’s residency status, Avina Gutierrez said.

“Sanctuary cities really came to light to deter local law enforcement agencies from having to act as immigration officers as well,” she said.

Since then, major cities including Chicago, New York, Baltimore, Boston and Seattle have been declared sanctuary cities. Today, there are nearly 300 sanctuary-like cities nationwide.

“It’s interesting because being labeled a sanctuary started out as a badge of honor, but now the sanctuary designation is almost used as an insult,” Motomura said.

Despite the designation’s rising prominence, there is no legal definition about what a sanctuary, safe, refuge or welcoming city is. But all definitions outline the city’s cooperation with federal immigration-law enforcement, Motomura said.

How this is manifested in laws, resolutions or unwritten mandates varies from city to city, allowing communities to individually tailor statements to meet their needs.

“This is an opportunity for our community to say we’re strong protectors of our constituents, and their city government will always stand for their rights,” Avina Gutierrez said.