Jose Robles entered the United States 13 years ago with the goal of creating a better life for his family. After an argument with his neighbor, he found himself threatened with deportation, even though no charges were filed. Why? Because he was an undocumented immigrant, and under tough anti-immigrant laws in the United States, his encounter with law enforcement raised a flag in the system. He went from supporting his family to immigration detention, and his story is far from unique.
That’s all going to change in King County, Washington, which contains Seattle and outlying communities. The county council just voted 5-4 to suspend cooperation with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when it comes to immigration holds for minor crimes. Law enforcement will only detain suspected undocumented immigrants convicted of major crimes (sexual assault, significant traffic crimes like DUI, rape) and turn them over to ICE, while keeping other residents within its own law enforcement system.
Council members have been pushing for this since last year, arguing that it’s necessary for health and safety in the huge county, which includes a large immigrant population. King County has already stood out with its provision of social services to all residents regardless of immigration status, and this is another big move for immigration rights. While some advocates would prefer county law enforcement not cooperate at all with ICE, this could be a first step to severing ties even further, and it also sets an example for the rest of the nation.
Explaining the rationale for the choice, county council officials note that this is simply a smart move for a community where people might be afraid to report crimes or intervene in dangerous situations for fear of ending up with deportation orders. For example, a woman might not report an abusive spouse if she was concerned her family might be detained and then deported. The decision to turn away from ICE fosters a more positive working relationship between immigrants and law enforcement in the community, making it easier to work on common goals, like making communities safer and healthier.
King County isn’t the only locale in the United States that has cut ties with ICE or severely limited its cooperation. Cook County doesn’t cooperate with ICE detainers, Boston’s mayor-elect isn’t thrilled about cooperating with ICE and California’s TRUST Act limits the state’s collaboration with the agency, to begin a long list of cities, counties and states that are reconsidering whether harsh detention and deportation laws are the best approach to immigration in the United States. Notably, the arguments for passing such laws have been similar across the United States, as law enforcement, legislators, communities and activists worry about the culture of fear and distrust of law enforcement created by mandatory detention laws, especially in the shadow of the huge industry created around immigration detention in the country.
The rising tide against ICE could be a very positive sign in a nation conflicted over its handling of immigration and reform of immigration policies. Clearly, the current system is endangering immigrants, their families and communities, with a growing list of deportees pushed out into nations they may never have set foot in, or where they may be in critical danger if they return. A national revolt against the agency from law enforcement agencies, county and city councils, and other authorities could send a powerful message about reform.
Is King County’s Halt to Cooperating With ICE a Small Step Towards Immigration Reform?
When it Comes to Immigration Issues, This County Decides it’s Not a Matter ICE Should Handle