This article has been updated since its original publication.
WALLA WALLA — Under a new sheriff’s order issued Monday, Walla Walla County will no longer honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold immigrants in custody who would otherwise be released.
Effective immediately, the policy says, “the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office shall cease to hold individuals in custody when the only authority for such custody is a request contained in a (Department of Homeland Security) ICE immigration detainer.”
Sheriff John Turner said the new policy reflected two federal court rulings in which judges found that ICE detainers are requests, not commands, and that local law enforcement had violated individual civil rights by detaining people for immigration authorities.
“This new policy is just one piece of our ongoing process of constantly and appropriately addressing new laws, court case decisions, new trends in law enforcement and risk management,” said Turner, adding that it would reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit against the county.
Immigration detainers are common across the country as a result of Secure Communities, a federal program that requires local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of all jail inmates with the FBI, which then shares them with the Department of Homeland Security.
Homeland Security uses that information to determine if a person is an immigrant who is in the U.S. illegally or is otherwise eligible for removal, and may issue a detainer requesting the state or local jail to hold the immigrant for up to 48 hours.
In Walla Walla County, a total of 225 people had ICE detainers issued from the beginning of fiscal year 2011 to the present. Turner said as far as he knew, ICE had actually taken custody of every individual for whom they issues a detainer.
The new policy was praised by immigrant rights group OneAmerica, which is based in Seattle and has organizers operating in Walla Walla.
“The policy change means that many families in Walla Walla County that would otherwise be separated as a result of our inhumane detention and deportation system have greater hope of staying together,” said David Ayala-Zamora, OneAmerica Program Director. “Ultimately, however, what we need is comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together and stops needless deportation.”
A number of Oregon counties have adopted similar policies since an April 11 ruling by U.S. District Court judge Janice M. Stewart, which found Clackamas County violated Maria Miranda-Olivares’ constitutional rights by holding her for 48 hours after her case was settled because of an ICE detainer.
In Washington, King County Council approved a policy in December stating that the county would not honor ICE detainers for immigrants arrested for low-level crimes. Policy supporters said the change would help build trust between law enforcement and immigrants, who sometimes don’t report crimes for fear of being deported.
Turner said compliance with the law and risk management were the only reasons for his order, but said he’d observed that some immigrants may fear law enforcement because of “misunderstandings ... about the role of federal immigration officers versus the role of local law enforcement.”
He also said the policy would reduce custody costs at the Walla Walla County Jail, though he did not have a savings estimate.
The cost of keeping an inmate in the county jail is billed on an hourly basis, according to Shanda Zessin, Turner’s chief administrative deputy. That amount was $2.74 per inmate per hour in 2013, and expected to be $3.11 per hour in 2014.