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Pierce County ICE Detainer Policy Leads to Increased Jail Time, Costs According to Research by UW Center for Human Rights

January 30, 2019

SEATTLE — In Pierce County jails, inmates targeted by Immigration & Customs Enforcement spend more than three times longer in jail than other inmates with similar charges, according to research by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, a disparity which raises significant human rights and policy concerns.

The Center’s new report, “Unequal Justice: Measuring the Impact of ICE Detainers on Jail Time in Pierce County”, finds that Latinx defendants in Pierce County are much more likely than any other group to be subject to detainer requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Statistical analysis demonstrates that ICE detainer requests are associated with a more than threefold increase in jail time, controlling for other factors including the seriousness of the crimes for which an individual was arrested and the number of charges brought against them.

A detainer is a written request from ICE to a local law enforcement agency to hold an inmate for up to 48 hours past their release date in order to permit ICE to investigate and potentially initiate deportation proceedings against them; ICE detainers also request that the law enforcement agency notify ICE as early as possible of the inmate’s date of release.

From October 2016 through July 2018, more than 188 inmates were the subject of detainer requests in Pierce County. The Center estimates that the cost to Pierce County for the additional jail time for these inmates with ICE detainers was more than $1,107,000; a cost borne not by ICE but by Pierce County taxpayers.

ICE detainer requests have long been subject of controversy. In 2014, a federal court found it unconstitutional to hold an inmate after their release date without a judicial warrant, leading many law enforcement agencies to change their policies regarding ICE detainers. After decreasing in recent years, detainer requests are again on the rise during the Trump administration.

Today, Pierce County reports that it does not hold inmates beyond their release date based solely on an immigration detainer. Research by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights shows that, despite this policy, inmates subject to ICE detainers are still held significantly longer than other inmates with similar charges.

Tim Warden-Hertz, Directing Attorney for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Tacoma, said, “This research demonstrates how important it is for all residents that local law enforcement operate completely separately from federal ICE enforcement. It also illustrates one of the many negative effects the Northwest Detention Center has on residents of Tacoma and Pierce County. Our elected officials should take note of this research and work with communities to find solutions at the state, county and city level.”

Ann Benson, Senior Directing Attorney of the Washington Defender Association, said, “Deportation is a disproportionate, unjust punishment imposed upon non-citizens and their families. These practices also erode public trust, an essential tool in effective law enforcement. Other cities and counties in Washington, and around the country, have recognized that collaboration with ICE’s deportation machine is ineffective, unnecessary and only perpetuates discriminatory and inequitable law enforcement outcomes. The Washington Defender Association calls on Pierce County to end its collaboration with ICE.”

Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica, said, “The UWCHR raises critical questions for residents in Pierce County. The data reveals that not only is Pierce County collaborating with ICE, it is doing so at the expense of taxpayers, to the tune of more than $1 million between 2016-2018. Pierce County’s disparate treatment of Latinx residents undermines trust in law enforcement and makes everyone less safe by discouraging witnesses and victims of crime from reporting those crimes out of fear that it could lead to their own deportation or lead to the deportation of family and community members. It’s time for Pierce County to get ICE out of its jails.”

Maru Mora Villalpando, a founding member of Northwest Detention Center Resistance, said, “The research of UWCHR reflects what we as immigrants in the Tacoma area have been saying all along: Pierce County and Tacoma collaborate willingly with ICE, and they need to stop. As long as the County chooses to work hand in hand with ICE and Tacoma continues hosting one of the largest detention centers in the West Coast, Tacoma will continue being synonym of detention. Both the city and the county have a choice to change that. Meanwhile people detained at Northwest Detention Center will continue organizing and exposing the detention and deportation machine so we can abolish the entire system.”

In 2019, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights will celebrate ten years since its establishment by an initiative of the Washington state legislature in 2009. The Center’s “Human Rights at Home” project examines the human rights implications of contemporary immigration enforcement in Washington state.

On September 21, 2018, the UWCHR filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security and its two sub-agencies, ICE and CBP, under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The lawsuit aims to hold ICE and CBP accountable for failing to respond lawfully to twelve requests for public information filed by Center researchers since 2017. On December 5, 2018, the UWCHR published a report, “Secret Police: Access to Information about Immigration Enforcement in the United States,” summarizing its experience in seeking to obtain information about immigration enforcement, and placing this work in a national context.