Respect Washington, a political committee that sent a letter listing purportedly undocumented immigrants’ names, addresses and crimes to more than 3,000 Burien residents, is mostly financed by non-Washington residents — mainly a nonprofit in Michigan.
Respect Washington, a political committee that sent a letter listing purportedly undocumented immigrants’ names, addresses and crimes to more than 3,000 Burien residents, is mostly funded by non-Washington residents.
Of the $31,690 in contributions that finance Respect Washington, 14 percent came from Washington residents this year and only about 4 percent from Burien, Public Disclosure Commission records show.
US Inc., a nonprofit organization founded by a Michigan man some describe as racist, gave $25,000 to Respect Washington, which is opposed to sanctuary cities like Burien.
This out-of-state organization has fueled division in the suburban city of about 51,000 south of Seattle, infuriating some politicians while emboldening others to take a stand on controversial issues like immigration and a safe injection site for drug users.
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After Burien passed an ordinance in January to protect undocumented residents from being asked about their immigration status, money poured in to repeal it. Elected officials and those running for local office have followed the national rhetoric that’s focused on immigrant crime. Despite the fact that Tuesday’s City Council election is a nonpartisan race, political tensions about immigration have split people in Burien, where people of color make up almost half of the population, based on recent U.S. Census data.
“To have organizations outside of Burien peddle their agenda is scary and frustrating,” said Burien Councilmember Austin Bell, who is not up for re-election. “It seems like they are trying to use Burien as a testing ground for their hate policies.”
The Respect Washington four-page document mailed early last week lists 16 last names, their alleged crimes from 2008-2017 and some home addresses as well as a map.
“The fundamental point is to inform them where criminals live and criminals’ activities,” said Respect Washington executive director Craig Keller.
However, when The Seattle Times asked how many of the people listed were undocumented, Keller said maybe half, based on his research. He also acknowledged that addresses may be outdated or inaccurate and that some of the people haven’t been convicted of the crimes he lists, including murder and rape.
While Respect Washington used a montage of Seattle Times stories in its letter to Burien residents, the newspaper doesn’t support the organization or typically list the addresses of accused in stories.
None of the eight candidates running for Burien’s four council seats knew in advance about the letter and map, Keller said. None of them have received funding from US Inc. or Respect Washington.
However, Debi Wagner, an incumbent running for re-election to council Position 3, contributed $300 — the second-largest amount for a Burien resident — to Respect Washington on Aug. 11, according to PDC records. She didn’t return a phone call for comment.
Keller, who started the committee a decade ago, said that since the election of President Trump, people are emboldened to voice their frustrations with immigration policies.
When asked if the letter and map were ethnically motivated, Keller, a West Seattle resident who twice unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican, said “hogwash,” and that he has no regrets creating them.
Pedro Olguin, who organized a candlelight vigil Wednesday to denounce the letter and who is running for Burien City Council Position 1, said: “These folks now feel the fortitude to come out real publicly and not be ashamed of saying things that were said 50 years ago. … This kind of hatred and intolerance has no home in our community.”
Burien’s demographics have changed substantially, with the Latino population tripling since 2000. Based on the most recent U.S. Census data, 24 percent of Burien’s population is Latino. Yet representation in elected office hasn’t followed.
Olguin said he and Jimmy Matta, City Council candidate for Position 3, are the first Latinos to make it to the Burien general election.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that monitors hate groups, has referred to John Tanton, the founder of US Inc., as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”
Tanton is in a nursing home, said a woman answering the US Inc. phone, and no one from the organization returned a call.
Oregon Secretary of State records show US Inc. also gave $3,000 this year to the Oregonians for Immigration Reform Political Action Committee, which wants to repeal that state’s status as a sanctuary and reduce immigration.
Respect Washington has spent about half of its money on lawsuits against Burien and Spokane, which passed ordinances or policies similar to sanctuary cities.
Keller said the letter was sent to Burien residents who signed a petition in the hopes of voting to repeal Burien’s Sanctuary City Ordinance 651 on Tuesday’s ballot. A King County judge declared the ballot measure invalid, but Respect Washington is appealing.
Some local officials like King County Sheriff John Urquhart, who is up for re-election, feared the inaccurate map would incite violence.The Sheriff’s Office, which has law-enforcement jurisdiction over Burien, has a policy against asking about someone’s immigration status.
Keller rejects that the motive of the mailing was to instigate violence.