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The difference between “Sanctuary City” and “Welcoming City”

KENMORE, Wash. – City councils across the Northwest are passing resolutions to be known as “Welcoming Cities” or “Sanctuary Cities,” a term that one mayor says for his city is just reaffirmation of fact.

“It’s restating the obvious, that we are an inclusive community, that we welcome everybody,” said Kenmore Mayor David Baker.

Baker said it’s what Kenmore already stands for and why he has no issue trying to pass a welcoming resolution in his city on Monday.

“If somebody comes to our counter and wants a builder’s permit, if somebody comes to our counter and wants a dog license, we are not going to ask them their immigration status, there’s no reason to,” he said.

That’s how things work at the city of Kenmore today, and how they would work if a resolution is passed next week.

“We have an immigrant population within our community and we want them to feel welcome and safe. That’s the whole reason,” he said.

Kenmore is a member of Sound Cities, a group of 37 cities in King County, that Baker said are looking to pass something similar. He is the current president of the association. Mayor Amy Walen of Kirkland is vice president of the association and passed a welcoming resolution in her city last week.

“Kirkland has always been a very progressive community, a very welcoming inclusive community and they wanted us to restate those values,” said Walen. “They,” she said, refers to the citizens who petitioned the council for the ordinance.

“There were deep concerns about asking about immigration status,” she said. “Would people’s records of their religious affiliation be shared, would they be saved, would they be stored?”

Walen said the council unanimously approved their “Welcoming City” ordinance, across party lines. “We stand for being inclusive and offering city services to everyone, without discrimination. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that we have never said that we won’t cooperate with federal law. We will always, we are sworn to uphold the Constitution.”

In a press release, the City of Kirkland made the difference between some people’s expectation of “Sanctuary City” and their definition of “Welcoming City” explicit:

“The ordinance does not proclaim Kirkland as a “sanctuary city,” as it states that the City will continue to comply with a federal requirement to cooperate with federal immigration officers. But the City will not generally inquire or maintain records related to immigration status or religious affiliation, as provided under current federal law. The ordinance will not shield those who commit crimes, or who are wanted for crimes elsewhere. If anyone breaks the law, they will be apprehended as usual regardless of immigration status.”

“We want to cooperate with federal authorities wherever it’s appropriate, but federal law does not require us to inquire about immigration status or religious affiliation,” said Mayor Walen.

Jorge Baron, of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said “Sanctuary City” or “Welcoming City,” could be intertwined. The terms he said don’t hold any legal weight.

“The sanctuary label doesn’t have any legal meaning, really,” said Baron. “I think that it’s important to realize that even a jurisdiction or city or county calls itself a ‘sanctuary’ that it doesn’t mean that immigration enforcement can’t go in there.”

Baron said Seattle did not interfere with ICE raids last week, despite its status as a “Sanctuary City.” Seattle Police did not assist in the ICE raids either. Baron said he would like city councils to start explicitly saying they will not help any federal immigration enforcement, not just prevent their own officials from asking about Immigrant status.

“To the extent that cities are saying we are not going to be involved in this deportation force that the president wants to put out there, I think that’s an important message to send and it reassures community members to some extent,” said Baron.

Walen said it’s important everyone feels safe working with local law enforcement, no matter their race, religion or immigrant status.

“We think this is a public safety issue that everyone should be comfortable coming forward cooperating with law enforcement, giving evidence, reporting crimes without concerns that they will be deported or actions will be taken against them,” she said.

Earlier this week, the City of Duvall in East King County voted to become a “Welcoming City,” but just up the road, the City of Carnation decided not to. At a city council meeting on Tuesday, Carnation residents testified that they welcome people from all walks of life, but there were questions about whether joining the national organization that grants the official “Welcoming City” title was necessary.