When it comes to how law enforcement handles illegal immigration, Ed Pace says it's time for Spokane Valley to chart the exact opposite course from Spokane.
Pace, a member of the Spokane Valley City Council, is sponsoring a resolution, which he plans to introduce this week, that will direct city employees and police to enforce immigration laws and require officers to ask people about their immigration status under what he calls "appropriate circumstances."
The measure, says Pace, is partly symbolic and is intended to distinguish Spokane Valley from the city of Spokane, which in 2014 adopted an ordinance restricting when police and other city employees could inquire about someone's immigration status. Critics like Pace say the ordinance makes the city of Spokane a "sanctuary city." His resolution, he says, will declare that Spokane Valley is not.
"I've got skin in the game," says Pace. He stresses that he's not anti-immigrant, noting that his wife is a Vietnamese immigrant, and that he helped her eight brothers and sisters legally come to the U.S. "It's about enforcing laws. It's about law and order; we are a law-and-order city."
Pace's resolution would bring Spokane Valley into a divisive national debate over local law enforcement's role in applying national immigration laws. Proponents of the city of Spokane's ordinance, including both Mayor David Condon and Council President Ben Stuckart, argue that it makes immigrant communities more willing to cooperate with law enforcement. They also point out that Spokane's ordinance doesn't restrict police from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, unlike 200 local jurisdictions that do.
Although Pace isn't aware of an illegal-immigration problem in Spokane Valley, he says his resolution could prevent future acts of terrorism and make businesses feel more secure. Pace says the details of his resolution, including how and when police and city employees should look into someone's immigration status, will be left up to the city manager and city attorney.
This approach is untested in Washington. No city in the state has mandated that police proactively enforce U.S. immigration law, according to Josh Mahar, policy and communications consultant for the Municipal Research and Services Center, which provides research to municipalities in the state.
"I'm just dumbfounded how you would enforce that mandate," says Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich of Pace's proposal. "Have they really thought this through, or are [they engaging in] rabid partisan politics at its worst?"
Knezovich says that if law enforcement suspects someone is in the country illegally, they should take action to see that immigration laws are enforced. He calls both the city of Spokane's ordinance and Pace's resolution a "bunch of bluster" and says the real problem is that the federal government isn't adequately enforcing its laws.
Pace says he's unsuccessfully brought up the issue before, but now says that last November's elections have made the council friendlier to his resolution.
Although Spokane Valley is more politically conservative than the city of Spokane, not everyone on its city council is sold. Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos, who is also a councilmember, didn't know enough about the resolution to comment, simply stating, "Off the top of my head, immigration is a federal issue that has nothing to do with the city of Spokane Valley." ♦