The two counties are defiant in the face of the Homeland Security department’s public criticism of agencies not cooperating with immigration officials combing county jail dockets for people in the country illegally.
King and Snohomish counties have ripped the Department of Homeland Security for naming them among jurisdictions nationwide that aren’t cooperating with the Trump administration’s escalating attempts to capture and deport people in the U.S. illegally.
The issue surrounds the acceptance of so-called “immigration detainers” at county jails, which are formal but not legally binding requests to hold someone in jail for a possible immigration violation after they would otherwise be released.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely culls jail dockets looking for inmates who might also be in the country without permission.
County officials, however, have long protested using local police and deputies to enforce immigration statutes — the job of Homeland Security — and complain that some of those being targeted are members of the community they’re supposed to protect. The dual role erodes trust, they say.
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The tension between ICE and local law enforcement has only increased since the election, and crescendoed when Trump issued an executive order “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” on Jan. 30. Among other things the order did was require Homeland Security to publish a list of agencies that are not cooperating with the president’s plan to flush America of people who are in the country illegally.
A number of cities and counties reacted by declaring themselves havens for immigrants facing deportation. King County has declared itself a “welcoming community.”
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Kent Patton, spokesman for Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, said the county has never formally declared itself a sanctuary. Its policy of not cooperating with ICE to detain possible immigration violators jailed for other crimes stems from federal-court rulings, issued by judges in Oregon and Pennsylvania, finding the practice unconstitutional.
The list refers to 206 cases nationwide between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 in which undocumented immigrants were jailed on local charges and were set to be released when ICE requested a “detainer” while they moved to deport the person. In each of those cases, the person was released anyway.
Critics of the Homeland Security list say it’s an attempt to pressure jurisdictions — particularly those that have openly defied Trump’s policies or have declared themselves “sanctuary” communities — into complying with ICE.
The first list came out Monday, and both Snohomish County and King County are prominently listed.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary issued a defiant response Tuesday morning, and he bristled at a statement by Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan that agencies’ lack of cooperation “undermines ICE’s ability to protect public safety.”
“That is simply untrue,” Trenary said. “This unsubstantiated claim is offensive to me and the communities that I and the men and women of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office proudly serve,” he said.
If ICE believes any offenders pose a risk, Trenary said ICE agents should present probable cause and obtain an arrest warrant like any other law-enforcement agency.
“Since our policy to no longer honor detainer requests has been in place, ICE has produced zero warrants at our jail,” the sheriff said.
Reached by email for comment, Rose Richeson, the ICE spokeswoman in Seattle, referred a reporter to ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C. A call to the Washington, D.C., spokesman was not returned Tuesday.
Even so, the list says ICE has a dozen outstanding immigration detainers pending in Snohomish County, and notes their outcome “is yet to be determined.” Snohomish County ranked in the top 10 counties in the nation with detainers pending.
Up to this point, the county has not honored them and has released inmates under detainer unless there was another reason not to.
The ICE list promises that “the number of issued detainers will increase over the next several reporting periods.”
Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Joe McDermott reacted strongly as well.
“If this is Trump’s attempt to ‘publicly shame’ cities and counties on the list, it’s not working,” said McDermott. “We are proud to be a welcoming community for every single resident of King County.”
According to the list, King County released a Vietnamese man believed to be illegally in the country who had been jailed for domestic violence.