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King County Council limits federal immigration holds

If the King County Council gets its way, the jail won't concede to the federal government over detaining immigrants for misdemeanors. (AP)

If the King County Council gets its way, the jail won't concede to the federal government over detaining immigrants for misdemeanors.

Under the measure, approved by the council 5-4, the types of crimes that trigger a detainer would be reduced to serious and violent offenses, such as assaults, rape, robbery, repeat drunk driving, and other felonies. If a person is in jail for a misdemeanor, the county would not honor the detainer request.

"I think most people in our county will end up supporting the ordinance and in time, this ordinance will help our county be a little safer for all people," said King County Councilmember Larry Gosset, who spearheaded the measure.

According to KIRO Radio's Tom Tangney, one of the issues was the families of those illegally in the country. Additionally, in some situations, people in the country illegally wouldn't report serious, violent, or sex crimes.

"The tendency is for them not to report the crimes because then the feds would come in and would cause all sorts of trouble, if not for them, then maybe for the relatives or a sister or brother. So they actually started clamming up," said Tangney. "And especially if it's a serious crime - the police would rather catch someone committing a serious crime against an [...] illegal immigrant, than not."

Approval of the measure has been a goal for immigrant advocacy groups which argue that detainers often sweep up people who have not been convicted of a crime. Moreover, the King County measure could be used as a template for a statewide bill in the upcoming legislative session.

For years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been combing jail rosters and requesting holds on people suspected of being in the country illegally. The agency has repeatedly said its deportation efforts focus on immigrants with criminal records.

"The evidence is clear that these ICE practices, with regard to immigration detainer requests, undermine public safety, do little to fix our broken immigration system, and devastate our families and communities. This ordinance sends a clear message that King County will no longer collude in funneling its residents into an unjust deportation system," said Ann Benson, directing attorney of the Washington Defender Association's Immigration Project, in a statement.

"About 70 percent of all the people that were detained had committed misdemeanor crime or committed no crimes at all and that was one of the bigger problems that we were trying to address," Gossett.

There were 4,305 detainers issued in King County between 2009 and 2012, according to county council researchers. It's not known whether these detainers resulted in deportations or further detention for the individuals.

The measure now heads to County Executive Dow Constantine, who has signaled his support.

The Associated Press' Manuel Valdes contributed to this report.

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