South Sound News

Immigrant rights group suing city of SeaTac over protest bill

SEATAC, Wash. — A group of demonstrators is suing the city of SeaTac after they were handed a big bill for their June protest over the Trump administration's immigration policy.

The demonstrators believe the city is trying to take away their free speech rights.

It was their first ever rally in SeaTac, the immigrant rights group working under the umbrella of Families Belong Together-Washington Coalition. Immigrants who had crossed the border into Texas illegally were being sent to federal detention centers in SeaTac and Tacoma.

Monserrat Padilla at the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, which organized the protest, said they expected to pay a fee.

"Yes, usually the permit fee (of) $400," Padilla said, "which was already paid upfront to get the permit."

Padilla conceded the city did give an indication there might be some other fees.

"The city gave an indication that there might be some 'cleaning fees,'" she said.

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But when the bill came, the city said it was charging for the actual costs of hosting the protest. The lion's share, $30,847, was for SeaTac police providing crowd control, $5,810 went to public works, and $418 for permit and technology fees. The total bill was a whopping $37,075.

It was, says Padilla, a surprise.

So they sued, arguing the city of SeaTac is singling them out because they serve immigrant communities.

"SeaTac has been historically a place where immigrant and refugee communities have resided but there's been structural barriers for them to really thrive," she said.

As proof of that, she points to the Bakara Mall on International Boulevard, home to several businesses largely owned by immigrant women from Somalia. The city of SeaTac is selling the property for redevelopment. Opponents say that would displace businesses that have been here since the early 1990s and have helped revitalize this area.

And then there are their free speech rights.

"I mean this was a clear example of how freedom of speech under this administration is being targeted," said Padilla, "and is being specifically and cornering immigrant and refugee community to not speak out about their issues."

A spokesman for the city of SeaTac said he couldn't talk about pending litigation, not even to answer questions about the city's fee policy regarding protests.