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ICE responds to Constantine’s accusations of ‘PR offensive’

The Northwest Detention Center is a privately run, federal detention center in Tacoma. Some migrants and asylum seekers have been held there. (Nicole Jennings, KIRO Radio)

King County Executive Dow Constantine accused Immigration and Customs Enforcement of going on a “PR offensive” in a statement.

In recent months, ICE has been speaking out about local murder cases involving illegal immigrants who had not been handed over to federal custody after release from local jails, despite ICE lodging immigration detainers against them.

In response, Constantine stated:

ICE is now on a public relations offensive against jurisdictions that follow the rule of law, alerting the media to instances when agents send civil Immigration Detainers [sic] that are prohibited by county policy. ICE is fully aware that if they present a valid criminal warrant issued by a U.S. District Court Judge or Magistrate [sic], the county would comply. To be clear, we do not hold people against their will in our detention facilities unless ordered to do so by a judge.

Michael Melendez, deputy field office director for the Seattle branch of ICE, disputes the term “PR offensive,” noting that it is more about safety than about reputation.

“I would disagree with Mr. Constantine — this is a public safety offensive that ICE is on,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “ICE enforces immigration law, which can be criminal and administrative, but it’s not always both.”

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An illegal immigrant does not necessarily trigger “criminal violations related to their immigration status,” he explained. In those cases, ICE cannot get a criminal warrant issued by a judge or magistrate for the person. However, Melendez said, the agency can go ahead with administrative removal proceedings for civil immigration violations.

Constantine has declared King County to be a sanctuary state, meaning illegal immigrants are not turned in to federal immigration authorities. Similarly, Washington is a sanctuary state, and many cities — including Seattle — have declared themselves to be sanctuary cities.

“It’s politics over public safety,” Melendez said. “We have the authority to issue and lodge immigration detainers with our law enforcement partners, that being King County Jail.”

In the case of a recent murder of a man asleep in his bed in South Park, the alleged suspect, Julio Cruz-Velazquez, had, in the past, been charged with crimes such as rape and driving under the influence, and had been convicted of crimes such as domestic violence and vehicle prowling.

Violent crimes — especially acts as serious as rape and murder — are enough to get immigrants with legitimate visas sent back to their home countries. Therefore, these crimes should certainly be grounds for illegal immigrants to be handed over to ICE custody, according to Melendez.

“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release the criminal alien onto the streets, it negatively impacts public safety,” he said. “It’s clear.”

When those people are released back onto the streets, they often end up re-offending, he said.

“This can all be avoided, these sad cases, these sad scenarios … if they would have just picked up the phone and given us the opportunity to pick them up,” he said.

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from 12-3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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