December 29, 1985
By James Coates

SEATTLE‑Ragged bands of skid row "street kids" who prowl amusement arcades along the 1st Avenue corridor of porn‑movie houses here are playing an unexpected role in a renewed national debate over cities declaring themselves sanctuaries for Central American refugees.

Last week San Francisco gov­erning board of supervisors declared the City by the Bay a refuge for Salvadorans end Guatemalans. The week of Thanksgiving, the Los Angeles City Council passed a similar measure and Seattle's City Council will vote on a sanctuary ordinance soon.

But recent events on Seattle's skid row have complicate4 what appeared to be a heady string of victories by sanctuary advocates to pass ordinances around the country.

The key to it all was a tough-talking, young hustler named Lou Ellen Crouch, known to this city’s cadre of street‑roaming teens as "Lou Lou."

She was featured in this year's runner‑up for the Academy Award in documentary films, "Streetwise," about how runaway teens from up and down the West Coast gravitate towards Seattle's 1st Avenue corridor where they have developed a tightly knit sub based on begging, prostitution and drug dealing.

Lou Lou, was depicted in the movie as the street leader who took young girls under her wing and looked out for their safety as they plied the prostitute's trade along the rugged waterfront.

Seattle's streetwise teens be­came enmeshed in the sanctuary debate the week before Christmas, when Lou, 22, was stabbed to death in a game arcade. The killing occurred after she came to a 13-year-ol-girl defense in a fight that allegedly involved a Guatemalan refugee.

According to police reports, when word passed along the corridor that Lou Lou had been killed, a group of street teens captured Rolando Rodriguez, 34, as he slept under a nearby viaduct. He was charged with second‑degree murder and on Dec. 20, pleaded innocent.

Lou Ellen "Lou Lou' Crouch (right), shown with fellow Seattle “street kid” Dawn, appeared in the documentary film "Streetwise."
Her stabbing death, allegedly by a Guatemalan refugee, has provoked debate over the city’s consideration of a sanctuary ordinance that would benefit Central American refugees.

Ronald Brooks, regional director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for the Pacific Northwest, quickly seized on the incident to press the fight against the proposed "City of Refuge” ordinance before the Seattle council.

The ordinance being debated here and those passed in other cities generally condemn U.S. policy towards El Salvador and Guatemala and instruct all city employees not to help immigration agents who request information from various municipal offices.

Immigration spokesmen say police in most cities now cooperate by turning over illegal aliens and that by declaring itself a sanctuary, a city will face a sudden influx of illegals with criminal intentions. Some local officials, however, say the declarations are mainly symbolic. Los Angeles’ resolution instructing city employees to ignore immigration status in the conduct of their work was generally the practice before the resolution was passed.

Brooks argued that Lou Lou’s murder dramatizes the Reagan administration’s contention that many of those who claim to be fleeing tyranny in El Salvador and Guatemala are actually criminals rather than political refugees.

Since the early days of President Reagan's administration, a growing number of opponents of Central American policy have joined to support the Sanctuary Movement, a group of 280 churches operating an "underground railway" to help opponents of the rightist Salvadoran and Guatemala governments enter the U.S.

The federal government currently has placed 11 sanctuary leaders on trial in Tucson on 52 criminal charges alleging that they illegally harbored Central American aliens. 

Harold Ezell, regional INS director in Los Angeles, charged shortly after the council there passed a sanctuary ordinance that the debate actually is over ideology, not the plight of Central American immigrants.

“These people (sanctuary backers) support the Marxist-Leninist government… in Nicaragua,” said Ezell.

This year, Sanctuary Movement leaders say, 11 American cities joined the fray by passing refugee ordinances that instruct municipal workers –including police and welfare case workers- not to cooperate with INS agents.

Remy Golden, founder of Chicago Religious Task Force, the group generally credited with starting the Sanctuary Movement, identified the “refuge cities as St. Paul and Duluth, Minn.; Cambridge and Brookline, Mass.; Olympia and Tacoma, Wash., Los Angeles, Francisco, West Hollywood and Berkeley, Calif. and Ithaca, N.Y.

In addition, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington issued an executive order in March halting cooperation between city agencies and the federal immigration authorities, and ending a city practice asking employees about their citizenship.

Seattle, Golden noted, would the number of cities with sanctuary ordinances on the books to "an even dozen."  And in Seattle, INS Director Brooks seized on the murder charge against Guatemalan refugee Rodriguez in hopes of denying the movement its 12th city.

Brooks opened INS files showing that Rodriguez had been smuggled into the U.S. in 1981. He was arrested in late 1984 on police officers and, when the INS tried to deport him, Rodriguez applied for political asylum in Los Angeles.

His application was still pending when Lou Lou was murdered, brooks told the city council during a recent hearing into the sanctuary ordinance.

Chicago Sanctuary leader Golden countered that the only other violent crime yet linked to people brought into the U.S. but the underground railway was the sexual molestation of a 10‑year‑old girl in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette on May 26 by a Salvadoran who was being harbored by the local Congregational Church.

Nevertheless, Brook warned at a highly publicized Seattle city council meeting that a crime wave can be expected if the sanctuary measure passes.

After the Seattle council adjourned, roughly 200 street teens gathered at the Plymouth Congregational Church to hear eulogies for Lou Lou, who had lived among them since she was 14 and had amassed a police record that included possession of drugs and carrying a concealed weapon.

Pink, helium‑filled balloons were passed out for the youths to float skyward along with a prayer.

They launched their balloons and then, police say, many of them went to University Baptist Church, one of 11 local institutions providing sanctuary, and broke out stained glass windows and painted a Nazi swastika on the wall.