OLYMPIA — Democrats marked Latino Legislative Day at the Capitol on Monday by talking up a bill directing police to cooperate as little as possible with federal immigration enforcement officials.
The bill’s supporters include the Washington State Fruit Association. The group’s president, Jon DeVaney, said in an email that the industry fears losing its workforce.
“For years now our members have been asking for federal immigration reform, including a reformed guest-worker program that will provide a workable legal system for filling gaps in the domestic workforce,” he said. “Aggressive enforcement without reforms to meet these needs will be extremely harmful to tree fruit and other labor-dependent agriculture.”
The legislation, Senate Bill 5689, responds to fears that the Trump administration will crack down on workers in the country illegally. The bill is labeled the Keeping Washington Working Act.
The U.S. Department of Labor, in a survey conducted in 2013 and 2014, found 47 percent of farmworkers were not authorized to be in the U.S. DeVaney said there is no reliable data on legal status because workers present documents that appear genuine.
The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee last month passed the bill on a party-line vote. Republican Sen. John Braun of Centralia called the bill a “political football” that would put the state’s law enforcement agencies in an “unworkable position.” A lobbyist for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs testified that the bill calls for local officers to violate federal law.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Mercer Island Democrat Lisa Wellman, said Monday that she hopes the bill can be fine-tuned to be more acceptable to sheriffs and police chiefs. But the bill can’t be completely amended to their satisfaction without undermining its purpose, she said.
“We’re not trying to go against federal law, but we’ll do the minimum we have to do,” she said.
The bill would limit the information police departments, sheriff’s offices and the Washington State Police could share with federal immigration officials. The bill also directs the attorney general to draw up for public schools, hospitals, courthouses and shelters “model policies for limiting immigration enforcement to the fullest extent possible consistent with federal and state law.”
A similar law went into effect Jan. 1 in California. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a speech last year in Portland, said such “sanctuary policies” undermine respect for the law and harm public safety. Oregon law has for 30 years prohibited using local resources to enforce immigration law.
DeVaney told the Senate labor committee last month that “unchecked enforcement” of immigration laws without reform would be disastrous for the tree fruit industry and “everyone in our state who eats.”
“We didn’t see a big change in enforcement activities last year,” DeVaney said in the email Monday. “But we have seen significant discussion of an increased enforcement, combined with an uncertainty about what immigration policy will look like. This uncertainly is disruptive for employers, employees and their families.”
The tree fruit association represents apple, pear, and cherry growers and packers. Washington is the top-producing state for all three crops. Apples are Washington’s most-valuable farm product. The 2016 harvest was worth nearly $2.4 billion, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.