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King County Council adopts legislation restricting detention of immigration detainees
The King County Council adopted legislation Dec. 2 on how the County will honor requests by the federal government on the detention of immigrants in the King County Jail. The ordinance will continue the County’s effort to detain offenders accused of serious criminal offenses while refusing extended detention for those accused of minor crimes.
“We want law enforcement to focus its resources on the most dangerous individuals in our communities, not the deportation of those whose only offense may be driving with a broken tail light,” said County Council Chair Larry Gossett, the prime sponsor of the ordinance. “We also want all of the people living and working in Martin Luther King, Jr. County to feel safe in their interaction with law enforcement. This ordinance is a positive step in making this a reality.”
“Balancing the importance of public safety with that of personal safety is essential,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “The amendment I sponsored creates an oversight group to review these policies next year, ensuring this balance.”
“Let’s be clear, this legislation does nothing to impede our justice system’s ability to ensure that dangerous people and threats to our communities remain in jail,” said Council Vice Chair Julia Patterson. “The goal of this legislation is public safety and when you have a significant portion of the community in some parts of King County afraid to engage with law enforcement to report crimes that puts us all at risk. This policy allows for that trust between our communities and law enforcement which I believe makes us all safer.”
In 2008, Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security to expand its efforts to target noncitizens with serious criminal convictions for arrest and deportation. In conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, ICE developed the Secure Communities program, which includes a provision for the sharing of fingerprint data collected from local jails for identifying individuals detained to see if they should be investigated for immigration proceedings.
While the Secure Communities program has been modified to focus on those who have been accused of serious crimes, ICE can still request law enforcement agencies to detain immigrants for up to an additional 24 hours beyond when they would be normally processed and released from the detention facility. Many immigrant advocates believe these “holds” are being used to check on the immigration status of those detained, regardless of the offense they were arrested for.
To enhance public safety and public health throughout the County, the Council adopted legislation in 2009 that made county services available to all residents regardless of citizenship or immigration status. It codified policies that included King County Sheriff’s deputies being unable to request specific documents, such as passports, alien registration cards or work permits, for the sole purpose of determining whether the individual has violated federal civil immigration laws and that Public Health could not make immigration status a condition for receiving health services.
The legislation adopted by the Council—which would be only for individuals held in the King County Jail in Seattle or the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent—will expand the 2009 ordinance by limiting those immigrants who could be held for extended detention to individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes such as violent assaults and sex crimes. Defendants would also be detained for mid-level offenses including residential burglary and serious traffic offenses such as DUI or reckless driving. ICE would need to provide documented proof of their conviction for the individual to be detained beyond the normal processing period after their arrest.
Immigrants brought in for minor offenses, such as trespassing or warrants for minor traffic offenses, would be processed normally and be eligible for release when a judge orders their release or their case has been resolved.
An amendment to the legislation requires the creation of an oversight group that will review the implementation of the county’s limitations on ICE detainers. The group includes county criminal justice representatives, along with immigration advocates and the King County Bar Association to review the implementation of the new policies and make any recommendations on needed changes. The group is also charged to look at whether detainers could be eliminated. The group’s first report will be due in January 2015.