Pierce County Council members jumped into the national debate over immigration Tuesday night.
On a 5-2 vote, the council passed a resolution calling on the federal government to do a better job policing the nation’s borders and enforcing immigration laws.
The resolution also urged the state and other agencies to adopt policies requiring electronic verification of a person’s eligibility to work in the U.S. before making hiring decisions.
It does not have the effect of law and does not change how Pierce County does business; the council voted last year to adopt the federal E-verify system.
It does add Pierce County’s voice to a growing chorus calling for the federal government to protect the United States from illegal entry and is aimed at having people “follow the law,” said Councilman Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, the prime sponsor.
He was joined in approving the resolution by council members Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps; Roger Bush, R-Graham; Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor; and Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup. Council members Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, and Barbara Gelman, D-Tacoma, were opposed.
The council action came following more than two hours of impassioned testimony from some 60 members of the public.
Many spoke eloquently, some in Spanish, of the United States as a melting pot where immigrants come to work hard, pay taxes and make better lives for themselves and their children. Resolutions such as the one voted on by the council Tuesday night serve only to divide the nation and make people fearful, they said.
“Don’t racial-profile us … but judge us by our contributions,” Rafael Granados said in Spanish, his words translated by Tacoma resident Tom McCarthy.
Lua Pritchard, a longtime community leader and executive director of the Asia Pacific Cultural Center, called the resolution mean-spirited, as did many other speakers.
But in nearly equal numbers, residents from across the county urged the council to pass the resolution, saying they worry about the strain illegal immigrants put on social services and the economy.
“Illegal means illegal,” said Glenda Ahrens, a Spanaway grandmother of nine. She said was concerned about the economy and wants to preserve a future in which her grandchildren will have jobs and not be overburdened by taxes that buy services for illegal immigrants.
Many who spoke were naturalized citizens who believe in the American dream but think there are procedures people must follow to attain it.
“I am not against immigration,” said Ann Apple, who came to the United States as a child from Austria. “But please come in the front door and not the back.”
McCarthy, who translated for several Spanish speakers, told council members he was afraid “the Pierce County Council may do something shameful” in approving the resolution and suggested it might be motivated by people running for office.
Several speakers said the issue was less what the Pierce County Council might or might not do and more what they believe the federal government ought to do, which is fix fatally flawed immigration system.
County Council members seemed generally in agreement with that sentiment.
The resolution would do only two things, said Bush, the council chair: it asks the federal government to secure the nation’s borders and urges state and local governments to use the E-verify system, which employs federal databases to check worker documentation.
“We are not changing law here,” Bush said. “We’re simply making two requests.”
Still, the council proposal drew the kind of emotional heat the Tacoma City Council generated last month before it voted to oppose Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
Muri, Bunney and Bush said the council was doing what it could to call attention to the fact that providing services to people in the country illegally is a drain on county resources.
Last year, the county got about $380,000 from the federal government for costs associated with some 2,100 illegal immigrants detained at the county jail, the resolution says.
But that money covered only about 30 percent of the costs, Muri told The News Tribune last month.
“This resolution is a call to action that we don’t have to sit on our hands and do nothing,” Bunney said Tuesday night before the vote.
Farrell agreed the federal government needs to take action and said he wished the resolution had said something like, “Federal Government, fix this problem.”
Muri said that even before it was debated Tuesday night, the County Council resolution was having an effect on the issue and that several municipalities and school boards have inquired about E-verify.
Muri and Bunney each have announced candidacy for other elected offices this year – Muri for Congress and Bunney for the Legislature.