Immigration debate continues in Spokane - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Immigration debate continues in Spokane

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The debate over immigration reform rages on nationally and locally. The debate over immigration reform rages on nationally and locally.
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Immigration reform is a topic that is constantly making headlines from the Executive Branch of government all the way down to local jurisdictions.

The issue currently remains halted at the national level after the Obama administration's actions for immigration reform were blocked by a U.S. District Court Judge's order. The order prevents the President from granting quasi-legal status and work permits to millions of undocumented immigrants.

Here in Spokane, a citizen initiative regarding immigration status is in the signature gathering phase. Jackie Murray is the sponsor of that initiative which aims to repeal a municipal code change that made a decade old police policy law. That policy prevents officers from asking about immigration status when a person is pulled over for something else.

Murray says the law has made Spokane a "sanctuary city", meaning it is a safe haven for undocumented immigrants.

Although she is behind the initiative, Murray tells KHQ that she is not against immigrants as a whole. Murray's father was a Jamaican immigrant but became a citizen through legal channels.

"It's the ones that aren't coming through the system that I object to," says Murray. "We don't know who they are and what they're up to. I just think everyone should have to jump through the same hoops."

Those who want more options for people trying to become U.S. citizens say it's not that simple.

"When advocates for immigration are very adamant about immigration reform and meaningful immigration reform, it's because there is no legal way," says Gloria Ochoa, Chair of the Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Ochoa says there are two ways for immigrants to become citizens. The first is labor based, meaning you can come to the country if you can demonstrate a shortage of jobs, particularly in the fields of science and medicine. According to Ochoa there is no category for unskilled laborers to come to the U.S. for jobs.

The second process is family based, and Ochoa tells us there is a cap on the number of immigrants allowed in. From Mexico, where we see a large number of immigrants, those numbers are very limited.

"In Mexico the last time I checked it was 5,000," says Ochoa. "Obviously that's hugely not adequate."

That leaves millions without another option.

"You have to find whatever makes sense for your family," says Remedios Escalera who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was just 4 years old.

She grew up in Lake Chelan, Washington. Her parents worked and she was able to attend Eastern Washington University. In 2009 she got married and became a legal citizen, but spent most of her life in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant.

"I can't say I disagree with what my parents have done because I'm very thankful for what they have done for me and my brothers," says Escalera. "If they wouldn't have come here, I don't know what my life would've been."

There are millions more with similar stories.

"We need to be a more welcoming city and base everything we do on love not hate and fear," says Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart.

Jackie Murray, who had previously lived in Salinas, California, says that it's not hate or intolerance that drives her petition. "It's about law and order, it's about protecting our citizens, it's about not rewarding lawlessness."

Immigration policy is made and enforced on a federal level. In Washington state the cost of holding someone for immigration purposes is about $130 a day. Other jurisdictions with larger budgets, like King County have passed ordinances saying they won't bear the cost of holding people for purposes of immigration because those costs aren't reimbursed by the federal government.

"It's actually impacting in the millions of dollars for cost savings," says Ochoa. "In King County there hasn't been an influx of immigrants coming in from other countries just because they have a policy to save on criminal justice budgets."

Ochoa strongly encourages advocates and opponents of immigration to pressure legislators and Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform.

"We're talking about human beings," says Ochoa. "Until it's fixed no one is going to be happy."

Murray's citizen initiative needs 2,477 valid signatures by July to go on the November ballot.

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