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Metropolitan King County Council

Earning public trust, enhancing quality of life, protecting public health and safety
Metropolitan King County Council
516 Third Ave., Rm. 1200
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: 206-296-1000
Toll Free: 800-325-6165
TTY/TDD: 206-296-1024
Fax: 206-296-0198

council@kingcounty.gov
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Nov. 9, 2009

King County Council protects public safety and health by ensuring all residents have access to services

Measure codifies existing County practices; amendments ensure consistency with federal law

The Metropolitan King County Council acted today to formally adopt policies that enhance public safety and public health throughout King County. Under the legislation, all King County residents, regardless of immigration status, can now feel safe in coming forward to report crimes, assist in police investigations and seek preventive medical treatment, protecting the public at large and saving taxpayer dollars.

“I want to thank the coalition of community groups and the Executive’s Office for bringing this issue to the Council’s attention,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, prime sponsor of the legislation. “With this legislation, we have taken one more step forward in immigration reform.”

The adopted legislation makes the provision of county services available to all residents regardless of citizenship or immigration status, except as otherwise required by law. Fully consistent with federal law, the legislation adopts the current practices of King County departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, Public Health, Adult and Juvenile Detention, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

In testimony taken before the Council’s Committee of the Whole, the King County Sheriff’s Office and Public Health – Seattle & King County said the ordinance codifies existing practices in their agencies, is cost-neutral, and constitutes policies that will keep communities safer and in better health.

“These policies are critical to public safety,” said King County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart, who said the ordinance follows the Sheriff’s operations manual. “This policy has worked very well for the Sheriff’s Office for 20 years. We could not do our job if people were afraid to come to us as witnesses or victims. We have to have that cooperation to do effective investigations and protect the public.”

“This is good medicine that improves the public health of King County,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Chief Health Officer of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “The preventive care we provide through pre-natal care and immunizations, regardless of immigration status, saves us medical resources and tax dollars in the long term.”

The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office affirmed that the legislation is consistent with all federal, state, and local laws and allows the county to continue its current cooperation and communication with federal immigration authorities.

“We heard from the experts today. The Sheriff’s Office said these policies improve public safety. Our health experts said these policies protect the health of our communities and prevent the spread of disease,” said Council Vice Chair Bob Ferguson. “I agree.”

“Our community will be safer when all individuals trust they can cooperate with law enforcement officers and public health officials without fear of discrimination or retribution based on immigration status,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “King County is named in honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. because our residents value the principles of trust and nondiscrimination.”

“King County has long observed policies that its employees not inquire into the immigration status of the people with whom they interact,” said Council Chair Dow Constantine. “This law makes our county safer. No person should avoid reporting a crime, testifying in court, or seeking treatment for an illness because of immigration status.”

“If an epidemic starts in a population that doesn’t have access to care, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads to everyone,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson, chair of the King County Board of Health. “Diseases like H1N1 flu don’t discriminate based on whether or not you’re a legal citizen, and therefore, restricting access to care for some hurts us all.”

In addition to ensuring equal access to county services for all residents, the ordinance outlines specific requirements for the Sheriff’s Office and Public Health in the handling information pertaining to immigration status.

• The legislation codifies current Sheriff policies that King County Sheriff’s deputies cannot request specific documents, such as passports, alien registration cards or work permits, for the sole purpose of determining whether the individual has violated federal civil immigration laws,

• The legislation codifies current Sheriff policies that deputies cannot use stops for minor offenses, such as traffic stops, to determine an individual’s immigration status,

• The legislation codifies current Sheriff policies that deputies shall not initiate any inquiry or enforcement action based solely on a person’s civil immigration status, race, inability to speak English or inability to understand the deputy,

• The legislation codifies current Public Health policies that Public Health shall not condition the provision of health services on matters related to citizenship or immigration status.