King County Council restricts immigration holds

by: Essex Porter Updated:

New policy restricts immigration holds to only the most serious crimes

King County, Wash. - Immigration rights advocates hailed the King County Council Monday after it passed sharp limits on federal immigration detention holds at the King County Jail. Seattle-based immigration rights group One America hailed the 5-4 vote, saying in a statement that new "policy will limit harsh impacts of the federal government's misguided enforcement policies."

The new policy restricts immigration holds to only the most serious, violent, and sexual crimes. It also covers some serious traffic offenses, including DUI. King County Sheriff John Urquhart said it will help his officers win the trust of immigrants as they investigate serious crimes. "If they are a witness and they talk about a suspect that's going to get arrested, they might not do that if they're afraid that person will automatically get deported," Urquhart said.

The move is also a money-saving measure. A study points out that federal holds are costing King County upwards of $2 million a year. Last year, nearly a thousand undocumented immigrants were detained in the King County Jail. A UW study showed that 80 percent had never been convicted of a felony or of a crime against a person in Washington state. Immigration advocate Jim McMahan said, "This has resulted in the separation of families and undue suffering for thousands and of people."

Councilmember Kathy Lambert said she supports the concept, but said the ordinance doesn't do enough to protect the public. "I support a simple bill that delineates how many felonies you can do, how many gross misdemeanors you can do and how many misdemeanors you can do, and once you are past that, it isn't that you are ignorant of the law; it's that you have a nature of committing crimes," Lambert said.

One America Executive Director Rich Stolz called the new policy one of the strongest in the country.