OLYMPIA – Rafael was leaving the Grant County Courthouse in Ephrata last year when he was approached by men in civilian clothes who knew his name. They were federal immigration agents who eventually detained him as an undocumented immigrant.
They didn’t have a judicial warrant but handcuffed him and put him inside a car. He tried to argue he had rights, but an officer said he had none because he wasn’t born in the United States.
At the time, his wife, Angela, was in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. They had three small children at home.
Rafael and Angela – whose names have been changed for this report – told their story after a rally at the Capitol for Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Day.
Earlier in the day, a House committee had approved a bill that would not allow civil arrests inside or near state court facilities unless it’s to comply with federal law. Judges and prosecutors would not be allowed to collect immigration or citizenship status unless it is for a criminal investigation.
“That’s why I’m here, to show him I do have rights, and I want to make them count,” he said in Spanish to more than 200 people at the rally.
Several groups – including the American Muslim Empowerment Network, La Resistencia Northwest and advocates for the Iranian American community – allied at the Capitol steps to show support for the bill and solidarity with immigrants and refugees.
Bill sponsor Rep. My-Linh Thai said when people fear going to court for protection orders or as witnesses, everyone is less safe.
“I believe that the impartiality of our justice system is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Thai said.
Brenda Rodriguez, Eastern Washington coordinator for the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, said advocates were in the Capitol to urge lawmakers to support legislation that will improve the lives of immigrant communities.
“Oftentimes, our elected officials don’t know what immigrant and refugee communities are facing,” she said.
Rafael said their children suffered seeing their parents detained and living without both their parents at home for several months. His oldest child, who is now 8, told him he was scared he would be taken for being a child of immigrants.
Rodriguez said they’re not proposing to interfere with officers’ jobs or federal law, but trying to prevent immigrants from being targeted.
“What we’re asking for is for them to go through their process and get those judicial warrants so that they’re not targeting everyone who goes through the courthouses,” she said.