Making the case in Olympia for ending information sharing from WA prison officials to ICE
Feb. 17, 2023 Updated Fri., Feb. 17, 2023 at 9:17 p.m.
OLYMPIA – A Senate bill aims to end the Washington Department of Corrections practice of informing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an undocumented person is being detained in state prisons.
Advocates say many are sent to immigration detention centers after serving their criminal sentence.
Other law enforcement, and local and state prisons, are already prohibited from sharing this information after a 2019 executive order and a 2020 law. The law still allows state Department of Correction officials to share that information, though.
Tobby Hatley, Department of Corrections spokesperson, wrote in an email that 25 people with active ICE detainers were sent to ICE custody in 2022. The corrections department reports weekly to ICE, including an incarcerated person’s name, state corrections department number and FBI number.
Advocates and Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, who is sponsoring the bill, say if ICE wants to arrest people for immigration violations after they’ve paid their debt for the crimes they were convicted of, it should be done with federal resources, not state ones.
“That’s the place where I’m starting from, is making sure as much as possible our state agencies and our state-funded resources are being focused in on actually helping Washingtonians thrive,” Saldaña said.
Oregon passed a similar law in 1987, which advocates say makes Washington behind the curve.
Alethea Smock, ICE Northwest region director of communications, said they will not comment on pending legislation.
Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, is on the Senate Human Services Committee and said she opposes the bill because she says it will restrict federal immigration authorities from doing their job.
“Do I think we need to help individuals who are undocumented? Yes, some are here with their families and some came here as children,” Warnick said. “But others are here to take advantage of the system, committing crimes.”
Maru Mora Villalpando of La Resistencia, a Washington advocacy group working to end the detention of immigrants and deportation, said one of her organization’s members was sent to the Northwest Detention Center after finishing his sentence. People calling from detention centers report conditions worse than prisons because they are not given clean clothing, healthful and nutritious food, are not let out from prison units, and guards do not turn on heaters or air conditioning.
“When people come from prisons, they say this is worse than the prison and also they say I’d rather just get deported, I don’t want to spend more time in this place,” Villalpando said.
Saldaña’s bill also allows incarcerated people with a “detainer,” or immigration hold, to have access to correctional resources such as working, reentry programs and education, which she and some immigration attorneys said they currently do not have.
Hatley, at the Department of Corrections, said an ICE detainer does not preclude people from work or programming opportunities.
Angelina Godoy, professor and co-author of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights Immigrant Rights Observatory, asserts that the current corrections department exemption causes “double jeopardy,” being prosecuted twice for essentially the same crime.
Godoy said the Department of Corrections and ICE also serve different purposes and it’s unfair to people who have served their sentence for breaking a state criminal law to then be held on a civil charge in a federal facility, when U.S. citizens return home after their criminal sentence is filled.
“ICE usually muddies that distinction because it serves their interest to make it sound like all the people they’re detaining are horrible criminals,” Godoy said, “but the reality is, these are two separate systems that are intertwined by these kinds of inter-sharing of information, that this bill is trying to separate.”
Godoy’s project found some state and local agencies also sending information to federal immigration authorities despite the executive order from Gov. Jay Inslee and the Courts Open to All act.
The bill must be passed out of committee by Friday to receive a full House vote.
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