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Crime, Law and Justice

Immigrant Deportation Debate Spills Over To State Capitol

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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
A bill in the Washington House would direct local police and jails to stop coordinating with federal agencies on immigrant deportations.

The congressional wrangling over immigration policy -- which threatens to cut off Homeland Security money later this week -- is spilling over to the Washington State Capitol in a fashion.

In Olympia, state representatives may take a preliminary vote Wednesday morning on a measure that would direct local police and jails to stop coordinating with federal agencies on immigrant deportations.

Many police and sheriffs departments in Washington and Oregon have already dialed back their cooperation on immigration enforcement and detentions. A proposal from Democrats in the Washington Legislature would formally forbid local governments from facilitating federal immigration enforcement.

"It is my hope that by separating the roles of local police and ICE -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers -- this proposal can help to rebuild trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement,” said bill sponsor Rep. Luis Moscoso, a Democrat from Mountlake Terrace.

The legislation would prohibit city and county jails from honoring federal "hold for pick up" notices, formally known as detainers, on deportable inmates. The bill would also forbid local authorities from notifying federal immigration agents when an inmate of interest is being released. ICE agents would have to go out and find the person on the streets instead.

A national pro-immigration enforcement group blasted the proposal as "a sanctuary bill."

"What the law does is shield alien criminals from identification and apprehension by federal immigration authorities, ” Dan Cadman wrote on the Center for Immigration Studies blog.

In the Washington Legislature, support and opposition is breaking down along party lines, which could spell trouble if the measure advances to the Republican-controlled state Senate.

Immigrant advocates dominated a committee public hearing at the Capitol earlier this month. Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said collaboration between local and federal authorities on immigration enforcement makes some crime victims and witnesses afraid to come forward because it might subject them to deportation.

"There's that level of fear in the community," Baron said.

Advocacy groups also complained that deportations and open-ended detentions break up families and rob children of support from a parent.

On Monday, the policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the advocates raised some good points, but that the legislation still goes too far.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it has a standing policy to decline to comment on pending legislation. A spokesman in the Seattle office did say 85 percent of the people the agency deported in fiscal year 2014 had been convicted of crimes.