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Report: WA law enforcement agencies still cooperate with ICE, despite state law banning practice

caption: In this July 8, 2019, photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif.
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In this July 8, 2019, photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Local law enforcement agencies across Washington state have worked with federal immigration agents to detain undocumented immigrants, despite a state law banning such collaborations. That’s according to a new report from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights.

What begins with a traffic stop can end up in detention for some undocumented residents in Washington.

To stop this, the State Legislature passed the Keep Washington Working Act in 2019, which limits law enforcement from sharing information with federal immigration officials. But such information sharing is still happening in multiple areas including Clark, Skagit, and Okanogan counties among others, researchers from the University of Washington found.

"It's great that we passed this law," said Angelina Godoy, one of the authors of the report. "We're one of the leaders in the nation in that regard. But if we don't follow up and really make sure that the law has teeth, and that it's actually being implemented, a lot of its promises will end up ringing hollow."

Researchers filed public records requests with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection and received over 4,000 pages of documents in response. They focused on 13 out of 39 counties, and found a "patchwork quilt of policies" with varying degrees of enforcement.

In multiple instances, law enforcement staff interpreted Keep Washington Working differently than the state Attorney General's office, meaning they continued sharing information like individuals’ court dates, places of birth, home addresses, and booking photos with federal immigration agencies — sometimes in response to specific inquiries, and other times of their own initiative.

(Notably, King County was not found to be among the collaborators with federal immigration officials. Researchers behind the report determined that the county "sets the bar higher than the minimum standards." )

Last month, an investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting found the Clark County Sheriff’s Office shared inmates’ personal information — particularly that of Latinos — with ICE. As recently as February, the jail and federal agents communicated almost daily.

Similarly, KUOW found an individual was transferred from the Kittitas County Jail to the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, WA back in May 2020. That jail transfer led to the first documented case of Covid-19 at the detention facility, according to a records request filed with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The University of Washington report also pointed out that interoperable databases, which are not addressed under the Keep Washington Working Act, potentially pose a problem, as immigration officials are able to view data supplied by local law enforcement agencies across the state.

The report states, "While the Washington State Patrol claims that 'ACCESS [a data repository program] usage is limited to criminal justice purposes,' it is not clear which, if any, precautions are in place to ensure that ICE and CBP users of this Washington state database do not query it in civil cases."

Godoy, the co-author of the report, says that her goal is to get the attention of state officials and local legislators. While the law is still relatively new, she hopes it will bring more uniform enforcement. Researchers also worry about what's happening in the other 26 counties they did not investigate.

"I don't believe that those are all the incidents that happened. It's just the ones that we were able to document," Godoy said. "I believe they actually happen more often than we know."

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