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House passes bill to protect immigrant workers

Washington’s House passed a bill (SB 5497) aimed at protecting immigrants in Washington off the floor Friday in a 57-38 vote.

According to the staff bill analysis, the bill:

  • creates a work group to come up with strategies to expand career pathways for immigrants;
  • requires state agencies to provide services without considering a person’s citizenship or immigration status and to put in place secure information systems when people use state services and facilities; and
  • Limits the exchange of information and joint immigration enforcement activities with federal agencies.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with Republican Reps. J.T. Wilcox, Alex Ybarra, and Drew Stokesbary voting “yes” along with the Democratic majority.

Members voicing their support for the bill stressed making immigrants across the state feel safe.

“There are a lot of people living in fear right now,” Rep. Javier Valdez said. “A lot of people who look like me. They fear going to work, they fear picking up their kids from school, and they fear being separated from their families.”

Several Representatives who testified in opposition to the measure said they supported parts of the bill, but took issue with limitations it places on how local and state law enforcement can work with federal law enforcement (the third bullet point above).

“The piece of this bill that continues to bother is the piece that says, ‘If you have information, you can’t share it with federal partners, and when federal partners have information, you can’t accept it from them,’” Rep. Morgan Irwin said in debate. “And that’s tough, because things will get missed.”

Rep. Brad Klippert brought up incidents when officers lost their lives “because of the fact that they came in contact with armed assailants who did not reside in this country lawfully.”

In response, Rep. Roger Goodman, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, pointed out that the State Patrol supports the bill and that the limitations are aimed at civil law, not criminal law.

“We have to make a clear distinction between criminal and civil laws,” Goodman said. “There’s nothing in this bill that inhibits state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal law enforcement on criminal matters.”

Rep. Chris Corry, who said he was in “reluctant opposition” to the bill, argued that it won’t fix the “fundamental issue.” He named lobbying Washington’s congressional representatives as an alternative strategy.

“This bill won’t alleviate the fear of people who are living in our state illegally, because we don’t control immigration laws,” Corry said. “That fear will still remain there, because they will still be here illegally and subject to federal immigration laws. That’s a problem. That’s a problem of our broken federal immigration system.”

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, prime sponsor on the House companion, said in floor debate that she’s been working on the bill for “about three years,” that it’s been reviewed by every state agency, the Attorney General’s office, the governor’s office, and legislative staff, and that it’s in compliance with federal law.

“This bill is about creating some clear distinctions and some lines between local and state government and the federal government,” Ortiz-Self said. “It’s making sure that we’re using our resources, as a state, to make sure we’re taking care of the needs of our Washingtonians.”

The last member to speak on the floor before the vote was Rep. Alex Ybarra, who told a story of when he was in his sister’s car and got stopped by “La Migra” for no apparent reason.

“She wasn’t speeding, wasn’t doing anything wrong, and we got stopped,” Ybarra said. “And they asked my sister for her ID. She had her driver’s license. And then the officer asked all the kids, including me, where my ID was. And I said, ‘I’m 12 years old, I don’t have an ID.’ That’s how it worked back then.”

His dad, Ybarra said, successfully advocated for the law to be changed after that incident; but, he said, “not all laws.” He said this particular bill “goes just a little bit too far” in regard to law enforcement.

“I think that this bill’s great,” Ybarra said. “Because migrants in this state do so good, so well. And if they do a report on it, you’ll see it. We already know it, but then you’ll see it.”

But, he said he would be a no vote.

“I want to do it like my dad did it,” Ybarra said. “I want just to do what needs to be done.”

However, Ybarra ultimately voted “yes” just minutes later.

Tuesday, Ybarra said that “yes” vote following his emotional testimony was an accident. He called his pressing the wrong button “a moment of confusion,” and said he later corrected his vote to “no,” as he originally meant to cast it.

“It was an emotional issue for me, obviously,” Ybarra said.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story did not include Rep. Ybarra’s explanation of his “no” vote. He has since provided clarification, which is now part of the story.