Carlos Marentes (in the suit, on the right) addresses the group before entering chambers.

Filling King County Council chambers with supporters appeared to get the


Rights Groups' Rally at Council Meeting Pays Off

Carlos Marentes (in the suit, on the right) addresses the group before entering chambers.

Filling King County Council chambers with supporters appeared to get the job done for a coalition of labor, civil rights, and immigrant advocacy groups, as Councilmembers assured them movement on their stalled legislation.

The coalition staged a rally at this morning's Council meeting to demand action on a bill that would prohibit county employees from asking about community members' immigration status unless required to do so by law. Coalition leaders say the bill is necessary because immigrants often fear such inquiries--particularly in light of recent federal enforcement actions--and thus avoid collaborating with law enforcement or visiting health clinics.

The bill would also address racial profiling--it would prohibit the sheriff's office from making "inquiries or enforcement actions solely" on the basis of race, immigration status, or English language skills.

Many county agencies--including the sheriff--already have policies prohibiting such inquiries, but "It's one thing to have a procedure," says Carlos Marentes of Comité Pro-Amnistía General y Justicia Social. "It's another to have a law."

The bill was introduced in March by Larry Gossett (who wasn't there today because of a death in his family) and co-sponsored by Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips, but has languished in the Law, Justice, Health, and Human Services Committee, whose chair, Kathy Lambert, isn't a supporter, according to Constantine and Phillips.

Lambert says she might support the bill, but by the time she was approached about it, she had already scheduled agendas for her Law & Justice Committee meetings until September, and advocates asked her to displace that previously scheduled business. She argues that such displacement should only occur for emergencies, and she didn't see this situation as emergent, given that Seattle and the sheriff's office already have such policies in place.

"You can't just come in and say, 'I want a hearing next week.' It's just like, you can't go to the doctor and say, 'I want to have surgery tomorrow at 2.' And they say, 'We can't do that--we have an open heart surgery scheduled then. Do you want me to bump that?' 'Yes, I have a hangnail.'" Finally, she says she's concerned that the bill could jeopardize the county's federal funding by asking employees not to follow federal law, though the bill's draft does regularly include the caveat "except as required by law."

So with the Law and Justice Committee not an available avenue for several months, today's coalition showed up in large numbers, forcing the Council to allow its representatives (Juan Bocanegra of Jobs with Justice, Marentes, Jennifer Shaw of the ACLU, and Roberto Maestas of El Centro de La Raza) to speak, despite the bill not being on the meeting's agenda.

Afterward, in the lobby, Constantine and Phillips--both currently running for County Exec--took turns addressing the crowd, with translation to Spanish from Marentes. They explained that they, Gossett, and Ferguson are drafting a new version of the bill that will skip the Law and Justice Committee, and then joined the group in a short "Si, se puede" chant. Still, they'll need one more vote to get it through; on this front, both sounded notes of optimism--particularly, said Constantine, in light of "the passion and the personal stories that will be presented" at hearings.

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