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Can Jail Time in King County Jail Spare Illegal Immigrants From Deportation?

The topic of illegal immigration and deportation is a sensitive one, especially with the latest issue of whether or not the government has any right to sweep the county jails in search of illegal immigrants is currently brewing up a storm.

The ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has let it be known that they are targeting illegal immigrants committing serious crimes in the U.S.  They are doing this by doing background checks on individuals being held in local jails to check their status. Individuals that are found to be in the country illegally have a detainer placed on them. The detainer is basically a request to the local law enforcement  asking them to hold a certain inmate in custody until the government decides whether to take action or not. The controversy has reached new heights in Seattle WA, which has recently considered becoming the first in the state to deny assistance to the federal government as they attempt to find illegal immigrants by searching through the jails

According to supporters of the ordinance, not supporting the federal government’s attempt to look for illegal immigrants among King Country Jail's imprisoned population will protect any immigrants who were accused of minor crimes. Joel McDermott and Larry Gossett, the council members that drafted the ordinance, believe that the federal government's efforts to find illegal immigrants among King County Jail is unfair. Gossett cited a recent study that many of the inmates that were flagged with immigration detainers had no serious criminal history and that many of them weren't even facing serious charges as grounds for the ordinance. This, according to Gossett, means that around two thirds of the individuals who are detained do not fit the definition of the most dangerous criminals.

Those who oppose the ordinance, including the county’s prosecutor, believe that this would not only protect immigrants who stand accused of minor crimes, but also those illegal immigrants that are facing serious criminal charges and that may even have criminal histories. The ordinance would make it so that any person with a first offense conviction would not be subject to an ICE detainer. However, the ordinance is not specific about the severity of the first offense conviction. According to the prosecutor’s office, which reviewed the ordinance, this means that immigrants that have been convicted of serious crimes could escape justice from the federal government. Prosecutors explain that even illegal immigrants that have been convicted of assault, burglary, stalking, drive by shooting, unlawful possession of a firearm, drug manufacturing, arson and many other severe crimes, would be exempt from ICE detainers.

According to one of the ordinance’s opponents, council member Reagan Dunn, coming into the country illegally is one matter, but doing so and then committing serious criminal activities cannot be tolerated. While there are many individuals that oppose the ordinance that agree that the ability of the ICE to put detainers on any prisoner that is in the country illegally may be a questionable practice, they are opposed to the wording of the ordinance as it is, which as the prosecutor’s office pointed out could actually protect illegal immigrants that are serious criminals.