In a split 5-4 vote, the King County Council narrowly approved a measure Monday that’s at odds with federal immigration authorities. The legislation targets so-called immigration holds on people booked into county jail.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement issues these holds, or detainers, on people who it suspects are in the country illegally. The holds tend to lead to deportation, even for people with a clean record.
Under the legislation sponsored by Council Member Larry Gossett, the county will no longer honor all federal hold requests but only those for violent or serious offenses, such as rape, robbery and other felonies.
Council Member Julia Patterson voted in favor of the measure. “I support detaining dangerous people, which we continue to do with this legislation,” Patterson said before Monday’s vote. “But I also believe in a policy that says that a man who gets caught up in an altercation in a bar or a woman who gets arrested for trespassing in King County won’t have their lives and their families torn apart.”
In 2012, roughly half these jail holds nationwide were placed on people who had no record of a criminal conviction, according to recent analysis of ICE data by the Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse, a research unit out of Syracuse University. This outcome clashes with ICE’s stated agency priority to target individuals who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security.
A recent study from the University of Washington looked at King County jail data from 2011. It found that people with ICE holds spent on average an extra month in jail and that one out of every eight people held was never charged with a crime.
A handful of other jurisdictions around the country have also taken steps to limit the ICE jail holds, including Los Angeles County, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
King County Council Member Reagan Dunn voted against the detainer bill, saying it’s not the right approach. He also noted his frustrations with federal immigration reform.
“The US Congress has not taken steps to fix a very broken immigration system and that’s why local jurisdictions like King County and others across the country are trying to figure out how to deal with these situations here,” Dunn said.
During Monday’s council meeting, Ashley Berman spoke on behalf of the King County Republican Party in opposition of the measure. Berman said the proposal would shift this piece of immigration enforcement out of the jail and “make our communities the grounds on which ICE agents take action and make arrests.” Berman argued that would harm public safety.
Federal Way resident Pat Montgomery agreed with Berman that public safety is the heart of the issue - including safety for immigrants. Montgomery, who volunteers at a program for immigrant children, described the holds as problematic because they make immigrants fearful of police and reluctant to call law enforcement.
“This creates a safe haven for gang activity, which overflow into other neighborhoods," Montgomery said. “It creates a safe haven for drug activity, which no one will report. It creates a safe haven for domestic violence, which the victims will not report.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine has signaled support for this bill, which would take effect 10 days after he signs it.