King County councilman wants to bar jails from holding illegal immigrants

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SEATTLE — A King County councilman introduced on Thursday a measure that bars authorities from honoring jail holds of immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally ordered by federal authorities.

But the proposed county measure does not apply to people in jail with records of violent, serious, or sex crimes. The exemption also applies for people who have four or more serious traffic offenses, such as drunken driving.

Councilman Larry Gossett says it’s time the county has a clear position on immigration holds and aligns the practice with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s stated goals of focusing on immigrants with criminal records.

“Unlike other counties and jurisdictions that have indicated to ICE that they weren’t going to detain prisoners automatically, our position is a mixed bag,” Gossett said. “When you see the legislation it’s consistent with what ICE says they’re interested in.”

Gossett added the ordinance is meant to help people who are in jail but are not charged with a crime or people who get picked up for traffic violations.

He did, however, include repeated drunken driving as an offense that would trigger a hold. Under state law, he said, four drunken driving convictions become a felony.

An ICE spokesman declined to comment because it’s pending legislation.

ICE officials have said the agency implements clear priorities that focus on convicted criminals and other public safety threats.

But immigrant rights advocates say the ICE jail programs often sweep people who have not been convicted of a crime.

A University of Washington study released earlier this year concluded that on average a hold leads to an extension of a person’s stay in jail by nearly 30 days when compared with a person without an immigration detainer. Researchers also said that four in five people put on hold have never been convicted of a crime against a person in Washington state and a similar ratio had never been convicted of a felony. Another result was that immigration holds affect Latino communities acutely with more than a quarter of detainees being a Latino person.

“Those kind of statistics have impact on me in terms of basic fairness and justice,” Gossett said.

Gossett said he hopes to garner bipartisan support in the council for the ordinance.

Local immigrant groups applauded the ordinance’s introduction.

“When local law enforcement serve as agents of immigration enforcement, immigrants are deterred from reporting crimes and the safety of our community is undermined,” said OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz in a statement.

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office said Gossett’s proposal is an important step in keeping families together.

“ICE detainers have led to under reports of crime and families being pulled apart by lengthy jail stays and even deportation,” Constantine’s spokesman Frank Abe said. “The executive appreciates councilman Gossett’s effort to help restore fairness and rebuild community trust.”

ICE’s practice of combing local jail rosters for people suspected of being in the country illegally has faced detractors around the country. Some counties and cities — including New York City; San Francisco County in California and Cook County in Illinois — have announced that they will honor ICE detainers only if certain conditions are met.

The measure would have to be approved by a majority of the county council.

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