Editorial: ICE report only chills local law enforcement

This 2015 photo shows Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary at the county’s jail. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

This 2015 photo shows Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary at the county’s jail. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

By The Herald Editorial Board

It’s a dubious distinction. Snohomish County was listed this week as one of the top 10 “non-compliance” counties with respect to requests to assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in federal immigration enforcement.

The charge also is untrue, unsubstantiated and offensive, said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary, as reported in Wednesday’s Herald.

Trenary could have added unhelpful.

The county, specifically its jail, was listed in ICE’s first “weekly declined detainer outcome report” as having declined to hold someone who had been arrested and was suspected of being in the United States illegally. The report, required by a President Trump executive order, said the Snohomish County Jail had been issued 12 “detainer” requests that had been declined, tied for fourth with Iowa on a list behind counties in Nevada, New York and Illinois.

ICE issues the detainer requests to jails, asking local law enforcement agencies to hold those sought for 48 hours until ICE officers can take custody.

King County also was criticized in the report, which noted about a dozen counties in Washington state that have stated policies declining to assist with ICE’s detainer program.

Law enforcement agencies can disregard the detainer requests because they’re not legally binding. A 2014 federal district court case ruled that ICE detainers that had not been based on probable cause were a violation of the 4th Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Since then, Snohomish County and other counties in the state and nation have had a policy of declining detainers. Those arrested are released after having posted bail or are otherwise released by a court and can no longer be held.

Unable to mandate cooperation, the Department of Homeland Security is using the ICE reports to shame local governments and law enforcement agencies into compliance.

But it’s not a lack of cooperation that’s involved here; it’s the lack of a warrant, Trenary said.

“If ICE truly felt that these offenders were a danger to society, they would establish probable cause and seek an arrest warrant, just like any other law enforcement agency,” Trenary said in a release Tuesday. “Since our policy to no longer honor detainer requests has been in place, ICE has produced zero warrants at our jail.”

Trenary added that his office has a clear record of working with ICE during criminal investigations regarding an inmate, but his office must follow the law as interpreted by the courts.

While the Everett Police Department doesn’t operate its own jail, it has had a similar policy regarding the immigration status of those with whom it comes into contact. Immigration, according to the policy adopted in 2010, is the responsibility of the federal government. The Everett Police Department does not undertake immigration-related investigations and does not ask about the immigration status of those its officers routinely encounter.

There’s good reason here for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, the Everett Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to adhere to the letter of the law rather than buckle under to political pressure and act as immigration agents.

As outlined in a commentary published Sunday in The Herald, there’s a division of labor between state and local law enforcement agencies and federal agencies such as ICE, wrote Chuck Wexler, executive director for the Police Executive Research Forum, which works with police departments to improve the profession.

Wexler points to three reasons to keep those duties separate:

First, because each should be responsible for what they’ve been trained to handle — ICE for immigration and local law enforcement for state and local laws.

Second, because local police departments have enough on their plates in investigating crimes, encouraging crime prevention and protecting public safety, without doing the work of immigration officers.

Third, because it’s a matter of public safety. If local police agencies are forced to act as an arm of immigration it will make law enforcement more difficult and communities less safe.

Wexler, in the commentary, points out a number of examples where the assistance of undocumented residents has been invaluable to police in reporting crime, as witnesses and in identifying suspects. If those who are not here legally believe local police might turn them over to federal authorities, their cooperation with law enforcement is likely to end.

“If people are afraid to have contact with the local police, they will not report crime, serve as witnesses, or tell police what is going on in their neighborhoods. Without information from the community, investigating crime becomes difficult and crime levels rise,” Wexler writes.

This isn’t, as some may allege, proof that Snohomish County has, in effect, declared itself a “sanctuary city.” The term is as misunderstood as much as it is misused.

Trenary and others are ensuring that local law enforcement can do their work to protect their communities. ICE, Homeland Security and President Trump should leave them to it.

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