Federal authorities in King County, Washington provided data on Monday to show that a recent proposal to ignore federal immigration detainers for minor crimes could make the community less safe.
The county proposal would halt the current Immigration and Customs Enforcement protocol of holding immigrants accused of crimes for further immigration and background vetting. Instead, county law enforcement would not comply with any hold requests except for immigrants accused of serious offenses.
According to a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle to the King County Council obtained by local TV station King 5, the proposal could allow dangerous criminals who happened to be arrested for a more minor offense to avoid federal justice.
The letter, dated August 26 and signed by Criminal Division Chief Robert Westinghouse, explains that while the Justice Department is not taking a position on the proposal, the current practice has led to prosecutions that they believe “believe are important for public safety.”
It revealed that over the last year and a half, the U.S. Attorney’s office has prosecuted 15 cases in Kings County due to ICE detainers.
The 13 ICE detainer cases the office prosecuted in the last year represented a combined total 85 offenses including rape by force, serial drug trafficking, and assault.
“[T]he defendants our office prosecutes are individuals with a combination of significant criminal or deportation histories, and serious current charges,” Westinghouse wrote.
Advocates for the law argue that the detainer process makes communities less trusting of law enforcement and breaks up families when immigrants are deported, according to The Seattle Times.
Tuesday, ICE official Nathalie Asher appeared before a King County Committee meeting arguing against the proposal, The Seattle Times reported. Asher explained that immigrants convicted of minor crimes could actually have “more significant” criminal histories and that the detainers are a safeguard against premature release.
“That is really the role that Congress has put on ICE — to vet and make those determinations,” the Times quoted Asher.
Asher added that even if the county did not comply with detainer requests, ICE would still pursue offenders.
“We’d like to minimize that. We don’t want to be a hindrance in the local community… or appear to be out conducting raids,” she continued.
According to King 5, a vote on the ordinate has yet to be scheduled.