After nearly four hours of public comment and debate, Burien city council members delayed a vote on a petition to repeal the city’s sanctuary status.
A standing-room only crowd showed up for Monday’s special called meeting at Burien City Hall. People both for and against the city’s sanctuary city ordinance wanted to voice their concerns to council members.
The current sanctuary city policy prevents Burien city officials from asking someone about their immigration status.
An anti-illegal immigration group called Respect Washington spearheaded the repeal effort. The group then collected the 3,643 signatures needed to move the petition forward.
That set the stage for Monday’s meeting during which city council was supposed to take one of the following actions: do away with the sanctuary city policy as the petition asks, or pass a resolution that would put the issue on the November ballot for a city-wide vote.
The petition claims that the sanctuary city policy threatens the safety of Burien residents.
“Repealing this ordinance sends a strong message of intolerance and rejection to many of our neighbors, but it does not make our community safer. It simply makes us more divided and distrustful of one another,” one sanctuary city supporter told council members.
Though the majority of people who spoke at Monday’s meeting were in favor of Burien being a sanctuary city, a few people did speak out against it.
Among them was Craig Keller, a Seattle resident and the founder of Respect Washington, who organized the repeal effort. Keller says he’s opposed to any city in Washington being a sanctuary city.
“Because it’s a protection racket for illegal activity, and as a law-abiding citizen and someone who wants a safe community and doesn’t want criminal elements influencing our police force, I can’t stand it,” Keller said.
Others said they’re not necessarily opposed to the idea of being a sanctuary city, but would rather the voters make that decision than city council.
Still, others expressed concerns that Respect Washington may have coerced or tricked people into signing its petition – something Keller denies.
“I felt like I was accosted at the grocery store to sign this petition, and also at my front door,” one person told council members. “And they didn’t say it was to get rid of sanctuary status. They said it was to get rid of illegal aliens. So it’s been inflammatory rhetoric, and I don’t appreciate that, especially from people outside our city.”
That concern is what ultimately led some council members to push for a decision on the issue to be delayed. Council members spent several hours arguing about their next move. Eventually, they adjourned without taking a vote.
The delay means Burien will miss the August 1 deadline for King County Elections to place an issue on the November ballot.
It also means Respect Washington could sue the City of Burien for failing to act on the petition to repeal. That’s something Keller told KING 5 he is definitely considering.
A city spokesperson said the council will revisit the issue during its next meeting, which is scheduled for August 7.
Council members also discussed the possibility of a special election in February, but said more research needed to be done about the timing and cost to the city.
Immigration advocates celebrated the council’s inaction after Monday’s meeting, because it means Burien will remain a sanctuary city for the time being.