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Washington State Immigration Laws

Understanding the rules and regulations of immigration laws can be challenging and overwhelming. Regardless of its complexities, people should know about the basics of immigration law. This is particularly true for those who are going through immigration legal services or are at risk of deportation or removal.

This article offers an overview of immigrants' basic rights and responsibilities in Washington State. Below, you will find the following topics:

Law Enforcement and Immigration in Washington

In May 2019, Washington became a "Sanctuary State" after the passage of Senate Bill 5497. The bill establishes a statewide policy to support immigrants in Washington.

Included in the bill are the following provisions:

  • Prohibits the local authorities from complying with voluntary immigration holds. Especially those requested by the Federal government.
  • Prohibits state authorities from giving the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and other federal authorities "nonpublic" personal data about people.
  • Prohibits immigration authorities from interviewing people within their custody.
  • Prohibits local authorities from asking about peoples' immigration status or place of birth. An exception is for information relevant to a violation of state law or an investigation.
  • Prohibits local governments from entering into agreements with federal agencies or cooperating in enforcing immigration laws.
  • Prohibits local agencies from depriving people of access to public benefits based on their immigration status.

To learn more about Washington State's Senate Bill 5497, find the text of the legislation here.

Employment Checks and E-Verify Requirements

E-Verify is an online system that checks the employee's identity and employment eligibility in the United States. The system works by collecting the information the employee provided on their I-9 form. The system then matches it against the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) records.

Washington doesn't require E-Verify use. An exception applies to certain state contractors and public employers. Here, the employer should take the initiative to check their employee's status. Below is the list of the cities and counties required to follow this program:

Pierce County

Pierce County requires contractors and subcontractors doing business within the county to use E-Verify. But, it only applies to new hires and not to existing employees. The mandate took effect in February 2010 and was amended in May 2023.

Woodland

Woodland companies awarded $10,000 contracts or more must use the E-Verify system. They should check all their employees and subcontractors providing products or services to the city. But this rule only applies to newly hired employees during the contract term. Employers need not verify the employment eligibility of their existing employees.

Whatcom County

Whatcom County voluntarily joined the E-Verify program in July 2010. The county requires employers to use the system when hiring new regular employees. The county also requires certain contractors working with the city government to use the E-Verify program.

Take note that some advocates in these counties and cities are taking steps toward removing the E-Verify requirement. So, staying current with the recent changes to this rule is essential.

Driver's License/ID Requirements

Immigrants without proper documents in Washington state may get a driver's license. House Bill (H.B.) 1444 made this possible when it took effect on July 25, 1993. The law allows every person to get a driver's license. But they should show proof of residency in Washington state, among other requirements. Recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) can also get a Washington driver's license or identification card.

Public Benefits Restrictions

Federal laws generally ban immigrants without documentation from using government public benefits. But, certain jurisdictions may offer a specific list of benefits migrants can use. Washington is one of these states.

Washington offers certain public benefits that anyone can use regardless of immigration status. They provide these benefits to low-income immigrant communities and families. The following are some of these benefits:

  • Medical coverage for pregnant people
  • Emergency Medicaid
  • Medical coverage for cancer treatment or dialysis
  • Testing for treatment of infectious diseases, including COVID-19
  • Immunizations
  • Disaster relief
  • Nutrition programs for infants, children, and women
  • Emergency cash grant for families
  • Child Care Development Fund
  • Prenatal care
  • Emergency shelter and transitional housing

The ability to use public benefits may vary depending on immigration status. For instance, refugees, asylees, and those with T visas may have access to more benefits than immigrants without proper documentation. For more information, consult an immigration attorney near you.

Education Checks

House Bill 1079 allows undocumented students and DACA recipients to access in-state tuition. The bill became law on Jan. 15, 2003. DACA recipients and immigrants without proper documentation may use this educational benefit. But they must meet certain requirements, which include the following:

  • Completed full senior year at a Washington high school and earned a diploma or an equivalent GED
  • A resident of Washington for three consecutive years before receiving a high school diploma or GED
  • Continuously lived in Washington since graduation or getting a GED.
  • Submitted an affidavit stating their qualification to pay resident tuition and their intent to apply for legal permanent residency as soon as permitted

The state also signed into law House Bill 1488 on March 22, 2018. The bill expanded access to in-state tuition to refugees if they meet the residency requirements.

DACA recipients and students without documentation may also get state financial aid. The financial aid extends to private and public postsecondary institutions. But note that applicants must meet certain requirements to get state financial aid.

Voting ID Rules

Washington does not require voters to show photo identification documents to vote. The state uses all-mail voting. But voters may opt to vote in person at a local voting center. Here, the county auditor will ask the voter to either sign a ballot declaration or show an ID. Some of the accepted forms of ID are:

  • Driver's license
  • State ID card
  • Student ID card
  • Employer identification card

Visit the Washington State Legislature website for more information about voting rules.

Housing Ordinances and Immigration

The U.S. government protects people's rights to fair housing through the Fair Housing Act. The act prevents discrimination against people based on religion, race, sex, national origin, disability, or family situation. This applies to renting, selling, lending, or mortgaging.

Related Resources

Washington's various state and nonprofit organizations offer legal assistance and referrals to immigration resources. These organizations sometimes provide referrals to state agencies and other service providers. Below are some of the resources that offer immigration services:

Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance (ORIA) — This state office helps immigrants and refugees thrive and succeed in Washington. Some services it offers are:

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington — The Refugee Service Center helps people with asylum status. It also offers employment support and case management.

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) — This organization promotes justice by advancing immigrants' rights. It provides legal services, education to immigrant communities, and system advocacy.

American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) — This is an association of law professors and attorneys who teach and practice immigration law. It is a nonprofit organization that gives legal services and information to national committees.

FindLaw.com's immigration law resources — FindLaw.com offers free legal articles to help you better understand your civil rights under immigration law. Here, you can learn about the basics of immigration law and other laws in the U.S.

Get Legal Help Understanding Washington State's Immigration Laws

The Sanctuary State status of Washington gave immigrants more leeway. Despite this, it is still crucial to know your rights. This applies to anyone regardless of their immigration status, whether you are a U.S. citizen, noncitizen, immigrant without proper documentation, refugee, or an asylee.

To learn more about immigration law, you can always consult an immigration attorney. They provide legal advice particularly tailored to your case. Some of the services that they provide are:

  • Processing visas with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • Helping immigrants change their immigration status
  • Processing U.S. citizenship or naturalization
  • Petitioning family members
  • Acquiring lawful permanent residency or green card
  • Other immigration matters

Lawyers can also provide legal representation. This is especially important for those in jail or immigration detention centers for violations of immigration law.

For more information, check this directory of immigration attorneys in every state. You can locate these immigration attorneys in various parts of Washington, from Seattle to Redmond.

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