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Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Tara Saleh Investigates the Enforcement of Immigrant Rights Legislation

2020 Linder fellow Tara Saleh
Tara Saleh working from home to analyze recently received communication records from Clark County for the “Observatorio” project.

December 9, 2020

Since receiving the Benjamin Linder Justice Fellowship I have been ecstatic to continue my work with the UW Center for Human Rights and have the opportunity to be a part of this community. My work during this fellowship has centered around a newly instated project titled the “Observatorio,” which functions under the umbrella of the Human Rights at Home team. Our focus is on local immigration issues, leading us to incredible partnerships with community-based and grassroots organizers around the state who offer us key on-the-ground insight for our research.

The “Observatorio” serves as a monitoring mechanism to assess the implication, effectiveness, and shortcomings of the Keep Washington Working Act (KWW) since it was passed in May 2019. KWW sets forth various guidelines to restrict information sharing and collaboration between local law enforcement agencies (LEAs) and federal immigration officers. Since June 2020, our work has also come to encompass the Courts Open to All Act, which protects people from warrantless civil immigration arrests at courthouses among other restrictions on information sharing with immigration officials.

My role in this project has been to utilize the WA Public Records Act to seek records that will help support our research and fuel further questions. To date, I have filed more than 50 requests to 13 counties across the state in order to help us gain a more holistic image of the legislation’s reach. Over the summer, we attempted to get a wider scope of understanding regarding the extent to which counties have been complying with the regulations of the KWW Act—specifically looking at the six-month period before and after the legislation was passed.

My team and I worked to develop three focus areas for this research, including (1) understanding the interview process between federal immigration agents and inmates, (2) examining email communication between LEAs and ICE/CBP agents, and (3) surveying the immigration-related policies across the counties. Utilizing public records for the benefit of our research has taught me about the creativity and subtlety that goes into developing methodology for the academic aspect of human rights advocacy. Furthermore, this project broadened my ability to coordinate large-scale projects and deepened my motivation for analyzing this work with the understanding of the greater impact.

This work is immensely important to me, as it has the potential to serve as evidence to enact further legislation to uphold immigrant rights and to educate community members of local human rights atrocities that while seemingly hidden, exist. This fellowship has allowed me the space and time to further a project I resonate with personally, and that I envision having a broad impact to a vulnerable population in our state. Through the “Observatorio,” I am reminded daily how grateful I am for that privilege. In addition to the impactful work I have been able to engage with at the CHR, I am incredibly lucky to have the chance to get to know and work with a great team. In such uncertain times, it is both rewarding and refreshing to continue playing a part in changing the world with a community of wonderful humans.