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Feds defend illegal immigrant holds at King County Jail

Seattle's top federal immigration enforcement official is defending the practice of requesting holds, or detainers, on immigrants locked up at the King County Jail. ( Kadletz)

Seattle’s top federal immigration enforcement official is defending the practice of requesting holds, or detainers, on illegal immigrants locked up at the King County Jail.

The county council is considering an ordinance that would limit the number of immigration detainer requests granted by the county.

Right now, the county honors virtually all requests by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain illegal immigrants for up to an additional 48 hours.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski conceded that he’s concerned about the actions of criminal immigrants.

“I’m also concerned about those folks […] because frankly, of a broken immigration system in my view, that maybe get into a little bit of trouble, get into the jail and get swooped up into that broken immigration system.”

But Nathalie Asher, director of ICE’s enforcement and removal operations in Seattle insisted the federal government is not focused on illegal immigrants accused of minor crimes.

“A detainer does not automatically equal a deportation, it just does not.” Asher told the council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee about how the current system of “holds” works. “We have done a good and fair job across the board in enforcing immigration law to address those individuals who truly are documented and proven individuals who pose a threat to our public safety.”

While not taking a specific stance on the proposed ordinance, Asher suggested that illegal immigrants are better off with the current policy, arguing that ICE agents would be forced to go after criminal immigrants in their communities, instead of simply and safely picking them up at the jail following a legal detainer request.

Councilmember Larry Gossett insists that reasoning is ridiculous. “Every major immigrant and refugee and minority community in the entirety of King County has written us and said, ‘Will you please try to put the brakes on what ICE is able to do?'”

A former ICE enforcement agent in Seattle offered the council a list of crimes that would not qualify a prisoner for an immigration hold under the proposed new policy, including drive-by shooting, assault, burglary and arson. He told the committee the list was provided by the county prosecutor.

The council committee took no action but will consider the ordinance again in two weeks, the final committee meeting before the council puts most issues aside to focus on the budget.

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