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Council adopts legislation amending detention of immigration detainees


Metropolitan King County
Council News

Council adopts legislation amending detention of immigration detainees


Only suspects with federal warrants will be held


The Metropolitan King County Council today adopted an ordinance modifying legislation on how the County will honor requests by the federal government on the detention of immigrants in the King County Jail. The legislation will continue the County’s policy detaining offenders accused of serious criminal offenses by holding those suspects that have a federal judicial warrant in the justice system.

“I am very pleased with the passage of this legislation as it aligns our policies with recent federal rulings,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, the prime sponsor of the legislation. “Of equal importance, it maintains public safety by honoring criminal warrants, which is the norm for anyone in the criminal justice system, and moves us closer to treating all those being detained in our correctional facilities with the same level of justice regardless of their immigration status.”

“In 2013 we took the first step in ensuring that dangerous people and threats to our communities remain in jail, while protecting the constitutional rights of all citizens regardless of their status,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips. “Today’s legislation streamlines the legislation adopted last year by emphasizing that federal courts require a demonstration that suspects are a danger to the community.”

“It is my hope that today’s action will increase our community’s public safety by working to address the fear many have about contacting law enforcement and chancing deportation,” said Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott. “The legislation approved today largely improves on what the Council originally adopted, and I’m proud to support it.”

“This was absolutely the right thing to do,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove. “It strikes the right balance between public safety and constitutional rights.”

Since 2008, the federal Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have expanded their efforts to target noncitizens with serious criminal convictions for arrest and deportation. 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.

Secure Communities has been modified to focus on those who have been accused of serious crimes, but ICE can still request law enforcement agencies to detain immigrants for up to an additional 48 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.

In 2013, the Council adopted legislation limiting those immigrants who could be held for an ICE agent after a court had ordered their release to those individuals who have been previously convicted of serious crimes such as violent assaults and sex crimes. Since the adoption of the ordinance, ICE has not acknowledged the county requirements and as a result, the county has not honored any detainers.

Since the adoption of the county’s policies, several federal courts around the country have ruled that honoring ICE detainers is not mandatory and that holding an individual on a detainer without other probable cause could result in the violation of constitutional protections and make the jurisdiction holding the individual liable for paying damages. As a result of these rulings, over 150 jurisdictions nationwide significantly limit the honoring of detainers, including most large counties in Washington.

Today’s ordinance modifies the language of the legislation adopted last year to bring it in line with the recent court decisions. The county will now only honor ICE detainers if they are accompanied by a criminal warrant issued by a federal judge. These types of warrants mean that a judge has determined that there is probable cause to hold someone, warrants the county has always honored.

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