Immigrants rights advocates are celebrating today after the King County Council narrowly passed an ordinance that says the county can ignore certain requests from federal immigration agents. Under the new law, the county narrows the criteria under which it will honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to "hold" people in county jails past their release dates while ICE assesses whether to deport them.
"This ordinance sends a clear message that King County will no longer collude in funneling its residents into an unjust deportation system," said Ann Benson of the immigrants rights group One America.
Proposed by Council Member Larry Gossett this summer, the ordinance was supported by local police (including the King County Sheriff) who say it will encourage immigrants report crimes without fear of being detained. Here's how Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel and Snohomish County executive John Lovick put it in a guest op-ed last month:
Local agencies and jails honor “hold” requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold defendants beyond a given release date. These requests happen regardless of whether the defendant poses a real public-safety threat—regardless of whether he or she has been convicted of a crime, and regardless of the impact detention and potential deportation will have on the children, families and communities in our state.
A recent study by the University of Washington indicated that defendants with immigration holds stayed an average of 29.2 days longer than other similarly situated defendants, at a cost to King County approaching $3 million annually.
The lone voice testifying in opposition at the council today was Ashley Burman from King County Republicans, who insinuated that Gossett and others were "playing political games," but didn't explain how. Before the vote, Republican Council Member Reagan Dunn said he would vote no (again, didn't explain why) and groused that the county was taking this up only because the Congress hasn't taken on comprehensive immigration reform.
ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz insisted, in a statement, that the agency uses detainers to make sure "dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities."
But, as Council Member Julia Patterson pointed out before the vote, "This legislation does absolutely nothing to impede the federal government's ability to detain or arrest people who are threats to our community." Still, the nine member council was split 5-4 in the final vote. Those joining Dunn in the opposition were Council Members
Jane Hague Joe McDermott, Kathy Lambert, and Pete von Reichbauer.