UW Report: Collaboration between King County jails and ICE results in unfair and costly impact

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Contact: Jorge L. Baron, Executive Director, 206-957-8609


Seattle, WA – A study released by the University of Washington today offers detailed analysis of the impacts of King County jail’s collaboration in the immigration enforcement policies and practices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Now is the time for the King County Council to enact an ordinance that will set a clear standard for county employees to not submit to ICE’s request to detain an individual unless the individual has a serious or violent felony conviction,” said Eileen Farley, Executive Director of the Northwest Defenders Association which commissioned the study.  “We applaud the leadership taken by King County Executive Dow Constantine, County Council Chair Larry Gossett, and King County Sheriff John Urquhart in leading efforts to address our grave concerns with the Secure Communities program in King County.”

The report, Immigration Detainer Requests in King County: Costs and Consequences, confirms the concerns of many immigrants and advocates in King County. The routine practice of holding individuals in response to an ICE request prolongs detention and funnels individuals indiscriminately into ICE custody.  Those working with immigrant communities agree this practice has undermined trust in law enforcement in immigrant communities while creating an unnecessary financial burden on all of King County’s residents.

In February 2012, Executive Constantine sent a letter to council to take action to address this issue.

“Behind each of the startling numbers in the report are community members and their families who are paying a terrible human cost that cannot be quantified. Every county resident should be concerned that the county’s current practice makes all of us less safe by making members of our community less willing to cooperate with local law enforcement agencies. This report highlights the troubling consequences of King County’s current practice of agreeing to use its resources to assist in immigration enforcement. We urge the County Council to take immediate steps to take the County out of the business of immigration enforcement.” said Jorge L. Barón, executive director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP).

Specifically, the UW report, written by Katherine Beckett, Ph.D. and co-author Ph.D. candidate Heather Evans, focuses on the use of immigration detainer requests, also known as “ICE holds.” ICE holds are placed on individuals booked into the King County Jail whom ICE believes are not U.S. citizens and whom ICE seeks to investigate for possible placement in removal proceedings. To date, King County has not exercised its authority to limit the circumstances under which it will submit to ICE detainer requests. Consequently, county officials routinely detain community members on behalf of ICE. In addition to prolonged detention, these practices also result in county residents being funneled directly into ICE custody upon their release, regardless of whether they have been convicted of a crime, the seriousness of any conviction, or other circumstances.

The report confirms both the experience of immigrant and refugee communities and the criticisms advocates have been leveling at ICE and local governments that collaborate with them in these practices. Namely, the report highlights that the current King County practice of submitting to all ICE detainer requests:
•    extends the time in jail for individuals subject to them by an average of nearly 30 days,
•    disproportionately impacts Latinos -more than one-fourth of Hispanics booked into King County jail were transferred to ICE upon release,
•    and costs King County and local municipalities nearly $2 million dollars in 2011 alone.

Additionally, the report documents that ICE practices are not prioritizing the apprehension of individuals with serious criminal convictions for removal. Contrary to the agency’s stated priorities, ICE’s enforcement dragnet is, in reality, targeting a much broader proportion of our immigrant and refugee communities. The report finds that nearly two-thirds of the people flagged by ICE were not charged with a felony offense when booked into jail and approximately one in eight were not charged with any crime at all before being handed over to ICE’s custody.

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project joins other organizations that work closely with immigrant populations in King County in calling on King County to take steps to reconsider its participation and collaboration in immigration enforcement practices that are undermining community trust, unnecessarily consuming scarce resources, and making all residents of the County less safe. They include the Northwest Defender Association, OneAmerica, Washington Defender Association, and the ACLU of Washington (statements below).

Eileen Farley, Executive Director, Northwest Defenders Association:
“As this study shows almost two-thirds of county residents King County surrendered to ICE in 2011 either were never charged with a crime or were charged with only misdemeanor offenses. King County’s current practice of accepting all ICE detainers taints how immigrant community members experience the criminal justice system and engage with law enforcement. Whether they are witnesses, victims or defendants, for noncitizen residents, any interaction with law enforcement carries a serious risk of deportation, for them, their friends or their families. Particularly in light of the fact that ICE detainer requests are issued by low-level ICE agents with no review by a judge, King County should exercise its independent authority to ensure that an ICE detainer requests results in transfer to ICE custody where an individual is convicted of a serious or violent felony.”

Rich Stolz, Executive Director, OneAmerica:
“We will continue to advocate for an end to these damaging ICE enforcement practices at the national level because it has become synonymous with racial profiling in immigrant communities and has ripped countless families apart, even for the most minor of offenses. At a time when the moment feels ripe for comprehensive immigration reform, King County must revisit how it responds to detainer requests. This is a sensible, fiscally responsible step in the right direction that will make families and communities safer. The King County Council must take action now.”

Ann Benson, Directing Attorney, Washington Defender Association’s Immigration Project:

“The UW report illustrates what we have been witnessing for some time – that King County’s practice of indiscriminately submitting to all ICE detainers is having a devastating impact on immigrants and their families and significantly undermining the functions of the criminal justice system. By exercising their authority to put a more sensible policy in place that limits the circumstances under which ICE detainers will be recognized, the King County council will ensure that our communities are more secure, and that our limited resources are directed towards things that enhance our community.”

Shankar Narayan, Legislative Director, ACLU of Washington:

“The report confirms that these detainers cause individuals to be detained unfairly and do not protect public safety. It undermines the community trust in police which is vital for law enforcement to be effective in protecting public safety. Further, it consumes resources that could be much better spent on true public safety needs.”

To view this media release as a pdf, please click here.