Report: Washington Police Department Continued To Work With ICE Despite Sanctuary Laws
Collaboration between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities has persisted around Washington, despite laws designed to moderate it, according to a report released Wednesday.
Local law enforcement officials and law enforcement officials assisted federal agents with roadside checks, according to the 39-page report, and freely gave personal information about detainees to federal agents.
A county sheriff’s office faxed a list of inmates and their birthplaces to federal agents. Some continued to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when undocumented inmates are released from prison, providing specific dates and times.
The Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington wrote the report. The researchers said they were looking to examine the effectiveness of so-called sanctuary laws.
The laws – the Keep Washington Working Act in 2019 and the Courts Open to All Act in 2020 – attempt to disentangle sheriffs offices and law enforcement agencies from federal eviction efforts.
“One of the principles of (the new laws) is: being in the country without permission is not the responsibility of local law enforcement,” said Phil Neff, researcher.
The Keep Washington Working Act is the larger of the two laws. It largely prohibits state and local agencies from working with ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection on immigration matters without a signed warrant.
The OPB reported in July how Clark County Jail deputies continue to email ICE officers almost daily since Washington’s new laws were passed to share inmate information, such as records, dates of birth and even fingerprints. Similar actions also took place in Cowlitz County.
Neff said he and a team of researchers had worked on the report for 18 months. They have relied on records of policy changes, emails and thousands of pages of forms that federal agents fill out when they arrest someone to be deported. They looked at 13 of 39 counties in Washington, which make up about 68% of the state’s population.
The report describes a mosaic of compliance. Some agencies have changed, according to the report, while others are failing. At least two sheriff’s offices have challenged the report’s findings.
In January 2020, for example, ICE files documented that two Grant County Sheriff’s assistants assisted an ICE officer arrest a driver who left his home at around 7:40 a.m., which then resulted in led to the arrest of the man.
In Franklin County, records allegedly showed prison staff faxing an “inmate’s birthplace report” to ICE staff based in Richland, Washington.
In Okanogan County, near the US-Canada border, the county jail allowed border patrol officers to question an inmate even after he marked “decline” on official forms in March 2020. These interviews are voluntary.
The report attributes the actions to different factors.
Confusion swept through police departments after the laws came into force, records show. Some agencies have even held meetings with the ICE specifically to discuss the requirements of the laws.
Strong relationships also played a role, according to the report. It is not uncommon for local agencies to be part of federal task forces. Local agencies also compete for grants from federal programs, which in turn encourage cooperation.
According to the report, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office recently used federal grant money to purchase license plate readers. In the email records, a chief deputy said they not only allow border patrols to access their database, but also respond to requests for people to watch.
Yet officials in Franklin and Okanogan counties disagreed with some of the report’s findings.
The Franklin County District Attorney’s Office said faxes with birthplaces were sent, but once the sanctuary laws came into effect, all faxes were sent “in error.”
“We have now ensured that all staff are aware of these changes. As you can see from our policies, place of birth is no longer requested during the booking process, ”Jennifer Johnson, Deputy Chief Civil Prosecutor wrote on August 2 in a letter obtained by the OPB.
Johnson’s letter also stated that the report incorrectly stated that Franklin County was holding detainees at the request of the ICE and that it was working on a task force with the federal agency.
Likewise, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said in a telephone interview that their cooperation with the border patrol did not extend to illegal immigration. As a border county, he said, they regularly deal with drug and human trafficking cases.
“This is not strictly an immigration agency. We’re sharing information because there might be someone they’re looking to contact due to criminal contact, ”Hawley said.
Hawley said Okanogan Prison only held people when there was probable cause for a crime, as reviewed by a judge. He disputed that the report’s claims that they are detaining individuals solely for immigration purposes.
The university’s report shared some positivity about the new Washington Sanctuary laws. Some counties, researchers say, quickly changed their policies. Others changed their policies after learning they were breaking the law, according to the report.
“Without a doubt, the uniform passage of (the laws of the sanctuary) will take time, and we hope that this investigation can contribute to the conversation about how best to get there,” the report said.