by Chetanya Robinson
The 2020 legislative session in Olympia is a short 60 days, but advocates for immigrant rights and equity in South Seattle are pushing for a number of bills and budget requests to help defend immigrants in court, regulate facial recognition technology, improve redistricting and the census, address noise pollution, and build neighborhood projects.
“It’s difficult, in a short session, to deal with all of the social problems that are manifesting,” Senator Bob Hasegawa (11th District) said. “It feels like a long session’s worth of work compressed into 60 days rather than 105.”
The Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of Washington (APIC) shared some of its legislative priorities with the community in January, alongside members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), and League of Women Voters. The priorities are “a reflection of the needs and voices of individuals, families, communities, and organizations,” said Michael Byun, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), which hosted the briefing.
An expansion of a state legal defense fund for immigrants — adding $500,000 dollars to the budget for a total of $2 million — is on APIC’s agenda again this year.
“Immigrant communities are really under attack,” said Tim Warden-Hertz, Directing Attorney at the NWIRP. The legal defense fund would help those who are low-income, and greatly improve people’s chances of winning legal cases, he said. “In terms of the immediate changes we can push for in Washington state, this is a really important one that directly allows families to stay together.”
According to Warden-Hertz, the legal defense fund has allowed some 800 people to have their legal cases assessed, and provided nearly 500 people with lawyers.
APIC and the ACLU of Washington have been pushing for a bill, titled “Courts Open to All Act,” that would prevent immigration agents from making arrests without a warrant at courthouses, stop sharing of information between court staff and immigration agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and would ask courts to track the actions of ICE and CBP in the courts. “What we’ve seen across the state is people’s ability to access the state court system is being impacted by ICE staking out those facilities,” said Walden-Hertz.
There is a disruptive impact on life when immigration agents make arrests outside of courthouses — “which are supposed to places where people go and participate in civil society,” said Enoka Herat of ACLU WA.
The ACLU WA and APIC are also supporting bills that address “tech fairness,” including facial recognition technology and databases. “There’s history of government using the pretext of surveillance to suppress free speech,” said Joseph Shoji Lachman, policy analyst for ACRS.
House Bill 1654 (Senate Bill 5528) would put a moratorium on government use of facial recognition technology until there are sufficient protections in place and specific needs the technology is addressing, and establish a task force to provide oversight. “We know that across the country, ICE is eager to use facial recognition,” said Walden Hertz.
Sen. Hasegawa, a sponsor of the bill, said Muslim and immigrant communities have been very concerned about how facial recognition technology is deployed. “Code is only as good as the code writer, and if the code writer has implicit biases they may not even be aware of, or cultural biases, they’ll manifest themselves in the code,” Hasegawa said.
An issue such as facial recognition is challenging to address in the legislature, Hasegawa said, because of the fast pace that technology changes. “We may have a bill done that takes a couple years to get to this point, but then some other, unforseen use of digital technology will pop its head up to keep people under their thumb,” Hasegawa said. “We don’t have the capacity to deal with those changes that are happening so rapidly.”
Another bill (HB 1663/SB 5529) aims to limit the use of automated license plate recognition, driven by concerns about abuse of such information. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña of District 37, and received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Law & Justice.
Legislative items specific to neighborhoods in South Seattle include an Airport Noise Abatement area bill (HB 1847), sponsored by Rep. Santos (D-37) which Sen. Hasegawa aims to bring to the Senate floor for a vote, and which adds Beacon Hill the areas surrounding the airport that need alleviation of airplane noise. Hasegawa also South Seattle to a budget proviso that would examine whether the Port of Seattle’s noise mitigation efforts are effective.
In the Rainier Valley, the Filipino Community of Seattle (FCS) is seeking a capital budget allocation of $1.6 million to help build an Innovation Learning Center and community gathering space for residents of Rainier Valley, part of the Filipino Community Village.
If you have comments or concerns about the above or any other legislative issues, here’s where you can contact your South End legislators:
11th Legislative District: Georgetown, South Beacon Hill, South Park, Tukwila and stretching into eastern King County.
Senator Bob Hasegawa: (360) 786 – 7616 https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/memberEmail/11/0
Rep. Zack Hudgins:(360) 786 – 7956 https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/memberEmail/11/1
Rep. Steve Bergquist: (360) 786 – 7862 https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/memberEmail/11/2
37th District: Beacon Hill, Central District, Rainer Valley, Columbia City, Rainier Beach, Renton and Skyway.
Rep. Eric Pettigrew: (360) 786 – 7838 https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/memberEmail/37/2
Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos: (360) 786 – 7944 https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/memberEmail/37/1
Featured image by Jim Bowen, used under a creative commons license