Proposal Seeks To Shrink King County Role In Immigration Enforcement

Jun 13, 2013

King County council members on Thursday introduced a measure that would limit when unauthorized immigrants can be held in jail.

Every year, hundreds of people booked into King County jail automatically get handed over to immigration authorities. That's even if the person has not yet been convicted of a crime and has no criminal record. Council member Larry Gosset introduced legislation that would change that.

“We just think this legislation will be a little more fair to the people involved," Gosset said.

Currently, when people are booked into King County jail, their fingerprints are automatically shared with federal authorities. If the person is suspected of being in the country illegally, immigration officials ask the jail to hold the individual. A recent University of Washington study found these holds cost the county nearly $2 million dollars a year.

Gossett’s proposal would instruct the county to only honor holds for people who’ve already been convicted of a serious or violent crime. But if someone has a clean record and is only charged with something like a minor traffic offense, he or she would be free to post bail and leave jail just like anyone else.

Immigration officials say the jail holds are intended to catch and deport serious criminals. But federal data show the majority of holds are placed on non-serious offenders.

Gossett expects the full council with take up the proposal sometime this summer.