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UW Center for Human Rights Launches “Immigrant Rights Observatory”

October 21, 2020

The University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) has launched a new research project to monitor compliance with state laws seeking to protect immigrant rights. The UWCHR’s “Immigrant Rights Observatory” will use public records research and community partnerships to investigate how local and state government agencies have implemented provisions of the Keep Washington Working and Courts Open to All acts.

Passed by the Washington State Legislature in 2019 and 2020 respectively, the Keep Washington Working (KWW) and Courts Open to All (COTA) acts restrict various forms of unwarranted collaboration and information-sharing with federal immigration enforcement, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), by Washington state police, jails, courts, prosecutors, and other local and state agencies.

In the years immediately preceding the passage of these laws, immigrant communities in Washington state had been sounding the alarm on the use of state and local resources for enforcement of civil immigration violations.

“To ensure the health of our communities, Washington enacted the Keep WA Working and Courts Open to All Acts. These laws draw a clear line in the sand prohibiting local state and local government collaboration in federal immigration enforcement. Local government should focus on meeting community needs, not on volunteering to provide the federal government unfunded assistance to enforce unjust immigration laws. Such collaboration undermines trust in local government, destroys families and makes us all less safe,” said Annie Benson, Senior Directing Attorney for the Washington Defender Association.

The UWCHR’s “Immigrant Rights Observatory” has been designed and implemented in in partnership with advocacy and community groups including the Washington Defender Association, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the ACLU of Washington, Columbia Legal Services, OneAmerica, and the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.

“Immigrant communities are aware of their rights under both laws and as ICE has stepped up internal enforcement in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, communities are on the alert for any actions that violate KWW or COTA. We will continue to organize to hold agencies accountable that choose to continue to separate families while breaking state laws,” said Brenda Rodriguez, Co-Director of the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.

Community members can report potential collaboration by Washington state, county, or local agencies with ICE or CBP to the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network’s hotline by calling 1-844-724-3737.

The “Immigrant Rights Observatory” is supervised by UWCHR faculty and staff, and coordinated by UW undergraduate and graduate students. It is supported by the involvement of faculty leaders from across UW departments and campuses. The UWCHR has already filed more than 50 public records requests related to this research. Next steps include administering questionnaires for key state and local agencies covered by KWW and COTA, further public records research, and reports on the impacts of these laws.

The new project builds on the UWCHR’s innovative Human Rights at Home initiative, which has previously released news-breaking reports about topics including ICE Air deportation flights in King and Yakima Counties; collaboration by local law enforcement and prosecutors with immigration arrests at local courthouses across the state; and an ongoing series of reports about human rights conditions at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (commonly known as Northwest Detention Center) in Tacoma.

About the UWCHR

The UW Center for Human Rights (UWCHR) is the only university-based human rights center in the country established by state law with a mission to work with community-based organizations to improve human rights outcomes. Since 2009, the UWCHR has partnered with grassroots advocates, policymakers, and others on the front lines of human rights struggles who seek research to inform their actions. In this way, all of the UWCHR’s work combines cutting-edge research, student education, and community engagement.