Bill would add immigration, citizenship to anti-discrimination law

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OLYMPIA — Legislation currently in the Senate would add citizenship or immigration status to the “law against discrimination.”

Existing law prohibits discrimination against individuals based on race, creed, color, national origin, families with children, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, age, veterans status or disability. The bill does not differentiate immigration or citizenship status from the areas in which these groups are protected from discrimination. These areas include the right to employment, real estate transactions, credit transactions and insurance transactions, among other areas. The state Human Rights Commission administers the statute currently; as policy they do not ask about citizenship or immigration status.

The prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5165, District 37 Sen. Rebecca Saldaña D- Seattle, testified on the legislation at the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Feb. 12. The bill was also sponsored by six other Democratic senators.

“In all cases where we, as a state, have an ability to recognize people living in our state that are residents, that are paying taxes, that are employed, that are contributing to our economy- we want to make sure they are afforded protections,” said Saldaña.

The bill does give precedence to federal regulations based on immigration and citizenship status. This means that federal prohibitions on hiring illegal immigrants and similar laws still apply, but under the proposed bill it would be illegal to discriminate against illegal immigrants if they are engaging in lawful behavior.

Xochitl Maykovich, of the Washington Community Action Network, an economic and racial justice advocate group, testified in support of the bill, outlining the issues in getting housing in many non-citizens or immigrants.

“There’s not a lot of recourse because it’s very clear that they’re being discriminated against because of their citizenship status but there’s really no place for them to go or no way for them to enforce their rights,” said Maykovich. “I think this bill will do so much to protect people and making sure people stay housed.”

Enoka Heart, a representative from the ACLU of Washington, also testified in support of the bill.

“There are 1 million immigrants in Washington state; that’s one out of seven of us. They are workers, students, parents and children. They are our neighbors and members of our communities. Some have lived in Washington for decades or for most of their lives,” said Herat. “They deserve to be treated like any other Washingtonian with dignity and respect.”

Alex Hur, a representative from One America, an immigrant and refugee advocacy group, testified in support of the bill, stating that discrimination is not limited to those here illegally but happens to people here legally at various stages of the immigration or citizenship process. SB 5165 was passed out of the Senate Law and Justice Committee to the Rules Committee on Thursday.

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