SEATTLE — First, it was thought the full activation of the federal immigrant jail check program was up to the states. Then in Washington state, maybe it was a county decision.
But despite objections by some state governors, local police agencies and immigrant rights groups, the federal government has been fully activating the program — Secure Communities — throughout the nation, including Washington state.
The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to bypass local and state agencies to collect the fingerprints necessary has left immigrant rights groups with few options left.
So now, to challenge the federal program, some are turning to their local officials.
In Seattle, immigrant rights and domestic violence groups have begun lobbying King County executive Dow Constantine to halt honoring a key component of the program. They want King County to stop holding suspected illegal immigrants in the county jail for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a practice called “detainers.”
At least two other counties — Cook County in Illinois and Santa Clara County in California — in the country have begun ignoring detainers. San Francisco is also declining to hold illegal immigrants for the federal government.
Cook County’s decision, followed by a publicized case of an illegal immigrant who committed a crime after being released, prompted a sharp rebuttal from the ICE’s director, who said the county was compromising public safety.
Secure Communities uses fingerprint analysis to identify illegal immigrants in county jails. Local jurisdictions send the fingerprints of peopled booked in jail to the FBI. Now, ICE uses the FBI database to cross check with its own databases.
“ICE places detainers on aliens arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminals are not released from prisons/jails and into our communities,” said Andrew Munoz, ICE spokesman in Seattle, in a statement. “Even though some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may also have more serious criminal backgrounds which disguise their true danger to society.”
Immigrant advocates, though, say the program leads to racial profiling and lands too many people without criminal records in detention. They also say that it leads people to fear local police departments and hurts public trust. Some U.S. citizens have also been caught in the dragnet.
Law enforcement agents in support of the program have said the program adds another layer of security.
But in an email urging supporters to write to Constantine, Jorge Baron of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said: “King County has a decision to make. Will it protect our county’s residents or will it choose to go along with (Secure Communities) and be complicit in tearing apart our families? Tell the King County Council to keep the County out of immigration enforcement.”
Claudia Balducci, King County’s director of adult and juvenile detention, declined to comment beyond saying that the county is considering the move. She said that on a daily average two or three people of 1,800 jail populations have detainers placed.
Three King County council members — Larry Gossett, Julia Patterson and Larry Phillips — have also written a letter in support. The three members, however, declined to provide a copy of the letter.
Counties around the state were under the impression it was a county by county decision to join the program after Gov. Chris Gregoire declined to activate it in 2010.
The program was fully activated in April for Washington state. So far, 88 percent of the nation’s 3,181 jurisdictions have been activated ahead of the 2013 goal of full nationwide compliance.
In April, ICE announced that they will no longer immediately detain suspected illegal immigrants who are arrested only on minor traffic violations and have no criminal history.