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Tacoma City Council passes opposition measure to AZ law

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on May 25, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
May 25, 2010 10:28 pm

It took two council meetings, several hours of public testimony and a split vote, but in the end the Tacoma City Council tonight approved a measure opposing Arizona’s controversial law cracking down on illegal immigration.

Re-written several times by co-sponsors Ryan Mello and Lauren Walker, the final version approved by the council is largely symbolic: It urges the southwest state to rescind or amend its law; urges the federal government to adopt comprehensive immigration reform, and directs City Manager Eric Anderson to send copies of the measure to President Barack Obama, Tacoma’s Congressional delegation and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

The council passed the measure by a 5 to 3 vote, with one member (David Boe) abstaining.

Under the city’s charter, all resolutions need five votes to pass. Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who was out of town when the measure first came before the council last week, ultimately cast the deciding vote.

Walker called the public debate over the resolution — which sparked divisive public sentiment over the matter  — “one of the best dialogues I’ve heard in a long time.”

Hundreds of calls and emails to the council overwhelming opposed the city’s resolution, while public testimony easily favored it.

“I’m inspired,” Walker said before the council vote. “This has been a great two weeks.”

Others disagreed. Councilman Marty Campbell, who opposed the city’s measure, estimated that the issue took up more than 1,000 man-hours that could have been better suited focusing on city issues.

“I do feel we spent two weeks of time on issues that I don’t feel we are responsible for,” added Councilman Spiro Manthou. Like Strickland, Manthou was out of town last week. He voted against the resolution this week.

Deputy Mayor Jake Fey, who favored the proposal, called the measure “a reasoned response” to Arizona’s law. He added the Arizona law obviously fosters racial profiling, saying, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what’s going on in the state of Arizona.”

In an unusual procedural maneuver last week, Fey helped orchestrate the issue’s return to the council for reconsideration this week, giving it another chance and an expected victory with Strickland’s return.

We’ll have more in tomorrow’s News Tribune. In the meantime, here’s a draft of my story on tonight’s council action:

After two weeks, hundreds of calls and emails, six-plus hours of public comment and one unusual procedural maneuver, the Tacoma City Council approved a divisive measure Tuesday to oppose Arizona’s controversial law cracking down on illegal immigration.

The council’s action on the resolution, in its second go-around before the panel, came with a split 5 to 3 vote with one member abstaining. It approves a measure that largely amounts to a symbolic statement opposing the southwest state’s law.

“That’s what this resolution is about – we’re saying we don’t want Arizona’s approach to this (problem) here in our home,” said Councilwoman Lauren Walker, who co-sponsored the measure with Councilman Ryan Mello.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who last week was out of town when the council first considered the measure, returned this week to cast the deciding vote for its approval.

“Tonight’s resolution is not a call to boycott, it’s a call to conscience,” Strickland said. She added the Arizona law lends itself to racial profiling, and said by allowing such discriminatory laws to stand “is about the most un-American thing we can do.”

Tacoma’s resolution describes Arizona’s law – so called SB 1070 – as encouraging racial profiling and violating constitutional guarantees of due process. It states that America’s “immigration system is broken,” supports “comprehensive federal immigration reform,” and says the Arizona law will “jeopardize public safety.”

But the practical effects are the measure are limited, in part because Mello and Walker sought to remove language calling for a city boycott on business and travel to the state. Mello explained the boycott was too divisive and distracted from the measure’s true intentions – “to focus squarely on race and racial profiling issues.”

“I feel like it does exactly what the intent of its sponsors (wanted),” added Mello.

The measure urges Arizona to “rescind or significantly amend” its law;” urges the federal government to “adopt comprehensive immigration reform,” and requests City Manager Eric Anderson to send copies of the resolution to the president, the area’s Congressional delegation and to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

Some polls have shown strong support for the Arizona law, and critics are concerned other states may follow with their own versions. Since the state approved the new law last month, several cities have passed measures to oppose it, primarily with boycotts. Several lawsuits challenging the measure also are pending.

The law, set to take effect July 29, requires police enforcing another law to question a person about immigration status if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the United States illegally. Brewer has said opposition against her state is misguided because the law mirrors a federal requirement that legal immigrants carry immigration papers.

The council’s actions came a week after more than 150 people crowded into council chambers to speak to and observe the council take up the issue.  Some 53 people testified then, with an overwhelming number opposing Arizona’s law and supporting city opposition to it.

Tuesday night’s meeting saw similar figures – about 35 people spoke with most favoring opposition to the Arizona law.

Connie Brown, a Gig Harbor resident who works in Tacoma, told the council she grew up in Arizona and witnessed first-hand broad discrimination against Latinos. She said the Arizona law tries to “legitimize the discrimination I witnessed there.”

“Where I come from, silence means agreement,” Brown added.

Others criticized the council for butting into another jurisdiction’s business.

“You were not elected or appointed by the citizens of Tacoma to be meddling in the (business of) the state of Arizona,” said longtime Tacoma resident Joe Gilligan.

The council’s approval comes a week after a majority of council members purposely voted down the measure after they belatedly realized they were one vote shy of passing it. The maneuver helped to bring the measure back this week, when Strickland and Councilman Spiro Manthou, both in Washington D.C. last week, would be present.

All council members’ votes from last week stayed the same, largely for the same reasons. Councilman Joe Lonergan and Marty Campbell opposed the measure, saying it was outside the council’s purview and most Tacomans supported the Arizona law. Coucnilman David Boe abstained, saying the resolution needed more work.

Voting for the first time, Manthou opposed the measure by saying most feedback he’s gotten is against it.

Strickland’s tie-breaking vote joined with last week’s majority favoring the law that included Mello, Walker, Jake Fey and Victoria Woodards.

“We have to follow our own hearts and constituencies on this issue,” Woodards said. But, she added, “we all care about Tacoma.”

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