OLYMPIA – A former judge who heads the Senate’s legal committee disagrees with Washington’s top lawyer over the way cities and counties should respond to federal requests for help with immigration cases.
But Attorney General Bob Ferguson said his advice to local governments is just that – they can decide for themselves how to follow it – and is designed to clear up confusion on immigration coming from the federal government.
“No one’s challenged the accuracy of our advice,” he said.
Earlier this month, Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, sent Ferguson a letter questioning the attorney general’s guidance to local governments, saying he found it “far from neutral in tone” and that it seemed to give a narrow interpretation of the obligations to cooperate with federal officials trying to enforce immigration law.
“It is, in essence, a ‘how-to-guide’ to circumvent the efforts of (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to enforce federal law,” Padden said in an April 14 letter. It could jeopardize federal aid to those local governments, he contended.
He wondered whether certain groups, including legislators, the state business association, prosecuting attorneys and ICE, were consulted. He also filed a Public Records Act request for all documents sent or received by Ferguson’s office regarding the guidance, which covers more than 100 pages.
The office’s director of public records wrote back on April 21 that they were gathering the documents, but it could be another 20 days before they find everything that Padden was requesting and can estimate when it will be available.
That didn’t sit well with Padden, a former Spokane County District Court judge, who this week fired back a letter questioning whether that response meets the requirements of the state’s Public Records Act to provide a “reasonable estimate” of time to respond. It seems more like “a ‘reasonable estimate’ of when you might be able to provide a ‘reasonable estimate,’ ” he wrote on Wednesday.
In a phone interview Thursday, Ferguson said his office is the law firm for the state and he was personally getting inquiries from local government and law enforcement officials about confusing things they were hearing about responding to requests for help on federal immigration cases.
“The challenge has been that the statements coming out of the federal government have left a lot of confusion,” Ferguson said. “We are providing clarity.”
Federal courts have already rejected the suggestion the federal government can withhold money from local governments that resist immigration efforts, he said.
“I understand that Sen. Padden has a different view of this issue,” said Ferguson, a Democrat re-elected to his second term last November. The two have worked together on legislation in the past, he added, including a law for tougher penalties for drunk drivers, but on these immigration enforcement questions “we have a disagreement.”
His office is doing its best to comply with Padden’s request for documents, but he said he finds the senator’s complaint about delays “ironic,” coming from a member of the Legislature which has exempted itself from complying with public records requests.
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