Immigration holds on hold in several Washington counties


by MEG COYLE / KING 5 News

Posted on May 17, 2014 at 10:48 AM

SEATTLE -- A long time tool in immigration enforcement may soon become obsolete. It relies on local law enforcement to help nab illegal immigrants.

For years, counties have honored requests by federal immigration authorities to place holds on immigrants who have been arrested. King County was the first jail in the state to refuse immigration holds for minor offenses. And a recent court ruling in Oregon is pushing several other counties in our state to follow suit.

When a suspect is booked into a local jail, the feds get to work, combing the jail roster, checking each immigration status. It's one way they find and deport those who are here illegally, requesting a hold or detainer on those facing criminal charges or with lengthy criminal pasts.

But a U.S. District Judge in Oregon recently weighed in, ruling it's not up to local law enforcement to do the fed's job. And more importantly, it's unconstitutional.

"The detainers were asking local law enforcement to hold people without constitutional requirements like probably cause," said Jorge Baron, Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

All the feds had to do was ask, but concerns over resources and constitutionality have more and more counties saying no.

"That's what led to a lot of other counties to realize we  might be sued if we continue with this practice," Baron said.

King County passed an ordinance in December limiting detainers. It was not a unanimous vote.

"I wouldn't want an individual who's been convicted of a drive-by shooting released out in the neighborhood," said King County Councilman Reagan Dunn in July of last year, as the council weighed its options.

Immigration officials argue the practice is key to keeping the bad guys off the streets. Natalie Asher with Immigration and Customs Enforcement testified at a council hearing on the issue.

"I will now have to go into the community to find this individual at large. I would like to minimize that for a variety of reasons,” said Asher.

But immigration advocates argue the wrong people are being rounded up and deported, often for minor offenses.

"Often times, unfortunately, people who get caught up in the detainer is someone who's been the breadwinner of the family and who's been supporting the family," said Baron.

So far, 17 counties in Washington have changed their policy regarding ICE detainers. The Oregon case is also prompting other counties to do the same.

The change also has a cost savings attached. A University of Washington study on the issue found not honoring the requests could save local cities $1.8 million a year.