Some worry the existing practice could change in the future and regard it as a safety issue. But the mayor, who voted against the proposal, called it more political than a matter of public safety.
YAKIMA — While it’s the city of Yakima’s policy to not inquire about a person’s immigration status, advocates want that policy to become a legally binding ordinance, and the City Council is leaning that way.
Advocates worry the existing policy could change in the future and say an ordinance will ensure that it won’t.
That argument has gained traction with the council, which last week passed a measure to begin crafting a draft ordinance.
The move comes after weeks of sometimes emotional debate over officially designating Yakima a “welcoming city.”
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That resolution, a watered-down version of an earlier proposal to adopt a sanctuary- city designation, simply asserted that Yakima employees do not discriminate based on a variety of factors including race, gender or immigration status. It failed 4-3, with council members Avina Gutierrez, Carmen Mendez and Dulce Gutierrez voting yes.
But advocates kept pressing the issue at subsequent council meetings, finally presenting a citizens petition this past week with more than 3,200 signatures in favor of a welcoming-city resolution.
While the petition was accepted, Dulce Gutierrez said it was apparent a council resolution was dead and the issue unresolved. “I’m still concerned about the expressed worries and fears that have continued,” she said.
The fear is that police will question the immigration status of those reporting crimes and then notify federal immigration authorities. Police, however, say they don’t ask — because if they did, crimes would go unreported and important information needed to solve crime, such as eyewitness accounts, would be more difficult to obtain.
For those reasons, advocates call the proposed ordinance a matter of public safety.
The entire community benefits when residents feel safe to report crime, Yakima resident Audel Ramirez said.
“The fact that the issue got pigeonholed into an immigration issue when we were talking about public safety is, I think, what made everything stall. But in reality there are some real policies here that need to be explored … to make sure nobody’s rights are being impeded,” Ramirez said.
But Mayor Kathy Coffey, who voted against the proposal, called it more political than a matter of public safety: “I voted no because I think it is basically the sanctuary-city or welcoming-city discussion in a different format.”
Councilman Bill Lover also voted against the measure but did not explain why.
It’s unclear what such a policy would look like, but Gutierrez said she will begin meeting with city officials, including those with the Yakima Police Department and City Manager Cliff Moore, to discuss that this week.
The council also voted unanimously to have a draft policy in 90 days.