King County decides not to hold immigrants for low-level offenses

The issue of federally requested holds on immigrants who are arrested for low-level crimes has been one of the most contentious in the immigration reform debate. In one major metropolitan area, the County Council has decided to deal with the problem by no longer honoring requests by federal authorities to hold such prisoners.

Seattle moves to amend immigration holds
In a 5-4 vote on Monday, Dec. 2, the Metropolitan King County Council, of which Seattle is the county seat, decided that local authorities would no longer be required to follow certain directives from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. The change in policy will not affect anyone arrested for more serious crimes, like sexual assault or burglary, but it will allow local law enforcement officials leeway in detaining immigrants.

The council issued a statement saying that the new policy will “limit harsh impacts of the federal government’s misguided enforcement policies,” according to Seattle CBS affiliate KIRO.

Nurturing trust and saving money
The council’s decision should have a wide-ranging impact on immigration enforcement in King County. John Urquhart, the county sheriff, cited the fact that it would allow for more effective crime prevention and enforcement because undocumented immigrants would no longer have to fear deportation when reporting criminal activity.

Shankar Narayan, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, went even further, telling the Seattle Times that, “In a place like King County, with lots of immigrants, the community really is eyes and ears for the police … Even if it’s perceived that there’s the possibility that local cops are entangled with immigration enforcement … then police lose those eyes and ears.”

The new policy should also save money. According to a March 2013 study by Katherine Beckett, a researcher at the University of Washington, the county and local cities spent nearly $2 million per year honoring the ICE requests.