A public hearing is set for Tuesday as King County considers making its jail the first in the state to refuse to cooperate with the federal government’s efforts to nab illegal immigrants.
Supporters of an ordinance before the King County Council say it would protect immigrants accused of minor crimes from overzealous federal agents.
However, KING 5 has obtained documents showing that the county’s own prosecutor believes the ordinance would protect illegal immigrants facing serious charges and those with serious criminal histories.
The ordinance was drafted by council members Larry Gossett and Joe McDermott after hearing concerns that immigration agents were deporting inmates in the King County Jail who were accused of low-level crimes.
“(Immigrants) are being swept up and that is not fair,” said Gossett.
He cited a recent UW study that found that most inmates flagged with immigration “detainers” have no serious criminal history or are not facing serious charges.
“That’s almost 2/3 of people actually detained who do not fit their definition of the worst of the worst of the most dangerous criminals,” said Gossett.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a stated goal of targeting “criminal aliens.” Those are illegal immigrants who are committing serious crimes in the US.
ICE combs through the rosters of local jails checking the immigration status of each inmate. ICE places a “detainer” on the inmate if they are in the country illegal and if they have a criminal history or suspected of a serious crime.
A detainer is a request to a local law enforcement agency to hold that inmate in custody, until the feds decide if they will take any action in the case. Typically, the feds may allow a local jurisdiction to prosecute the case and then will take custody of the inmate after a sentence is served so that the inmate can be deported to his native country.
KING 5 has learned that concerns about the proposed ordinance have been raised by the office of KING Co. Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
A confidential review (see below) by the prosecutor’s office found that “essentially a first offense conviction is not subject to an ICE Detainer under this policy, not matter what the crime.”
And prosecutors found that even immigrants with serious criminal convictions in their past might escape federal justice. As written, the ordinance would exempt from detainers inmates with convictions for drive by shooting, assault, unlawful possession of a firearm, burglary, stalking, arson and drug manufacturing.
The memo details 30 felony charges that would not be subject to detainers.
King County council member Reagan Dunn, a former federal prosecutor, said he would not vote for the ordinance as written – even though he supports the Dream Act.
“When you come into the United States and you are doing it unlawfully and you are also committing crimes like drive-by shooting or residential burglary or threatening to bomb a building, you’ve worn out your welcome,” Dunn told KING 5.
The public can weigh in Tuesday July 23 at 1:30pm. The King County Council will hold its first public hearing on the issue in council chambers on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle.