by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The south end of Capitol Hill has the second-highest density of Spanish-speaking homes in the downtown core of Seattle. Between Pike Street and Yesler Way east of 15th Avenue, the most recent census recorded between 9.2 and 11.5 percent of households to be Spanish-speaking. It is in communities like this that immigration legislation hits closest to home.
For much of the past decade, state and local law enforcement agencies have been honoring some degree of federal oversight of immigration violations. This oversight has led to longer detainment times for even minor offenses, further prosecution and even deportation of those found to lack legal immigration status. By January of 2014, King County will cease honoring such federal oversight in the vast majority of cases and begin studying the impact the legislative rollback has on the region’s criminal justice system.
Ordinance 2013-0285 passed in the King County Council at the beginning of December. The ordinance makes significant changes to the King County Code, a document of policies covering how laws are enforced in the region, and specifically addresses detainers that allow officials to hold an individual longer than 24 hours to determine their immigration status.
“What the detainers were doing is they were breaking up families,” said Director of the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affair Magdaleno Rose-Avila, a strong supporter of the new ordinance.
In the ordinance, the council references a report by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about all those individuals subject to detainers between 2008 and 2011. In that report, 78 percent of those individuals had no criminal records or convictions. The ordinance goes on to cite Immigration Detainer Requests in King County Washington: Costs and Consequences, a study by the University of Washington released in March of 2013. The study confirmed the numbers in the ICE report and also claimed that detainer requests disproportionately affected Latino detainees in the time of the study.
“[The new ordinance] is a great first step. Once we have a few months of practice, we’ll see a big difference,” Rose-Avila said.
Since his appointment to the OIRA, Rose-Avila has met with Mayor McGinn numerous times to discuss providing equal services to the immigrant communities of Seattle, many of whom, Rose-Avila said, are hesitant to interact with police because of negative interactions in the past and frightening associations with law enforcement in their native countries.
“In some countries, the police coming to your door means you get arrested. It others, sometimes it means you disappear,” he said.
The council believes that reducing the number of processed detainers will save law enforcement money, redirect personnel to other positions and improve public perceptions of police.
“The council recognizes that the cost to public trust in law enforcement, economic losses, and human suffering when weighed against the potential benefits of from exercising a detainer compels the council to limit and focus the circumstances under which it will honor federal detainers,” the ordinance states.
King County has a “home rule” government under the Washington State Constitution. In short, this means that the county can govern itself however it sees fit, as long as the county’s laws don’t contradict state or federal laws. It is by this power that the King County Council justified changing the code.
Specifically, the ordinance document clearly outlines how the council came to the decision to ignore most detainer requests from federal agencies. The preamble language provides a brief history of the federal government’s oversight of immigration issues in Washington, beginning in 1980. The council concluded that continuing to enforce detainer requests automatically made it impossible for King County to provide fair and equal services to all residents, not excluding illegal immigrants. In 2009, the council passed a sweeping ordinance requiring such equal treatment. The new ordinance seeks to align the code with that 2009 order in regard to law enforcement. In King County, it is also illegal to request identifying documents of any individual solely to determine that individual’s immigration status.
By federal law, all state and local jails must share processing information such as fingerprints of all individuals arrested and brought to a detainment facility. In some cases, ICE requests some detainees to be held for up to 24 additional hours beyond the legal 24-hour detainment period, specifically to confirm the detainee’s immigration status. The new ordinance removes the automated aspect of this process, only honoring detainer requests when they are accompanied by confirmations that the detainee is wanted of a violent felony, burglary or DUI, or has previously been convicted of such a felony.
From the beginning of the new ordinance’s enforcement, adult and juvenile detentions administrations will be required to compile data related to all detainer requests. The council will then receive quarterly reports detailing each detainer, focusing on what, if any, prior convictions the subject detainees have, the length of each detainee’s stay in custody and other factors of their time in processing. There will also be a local oversight group to analyze the implementation of the new policies. A full report by the King County executive on all implementation and oversight is due by January 31, 2015.