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UWCHR Report Finds Patchwork Implementation of State Immigrant Rights Law

August 11, 2021

Some local law enforcement jurisdictions continue to collaborate with ICE and Border Patrol despite restrictions

SEATTLE, August 11, 2021 — In counties across Washington state, local sheriffs, police, and jails took divergent and sometimes contradictory approaches to comply with the 2019 Keep Washington Working (KWW) Act, which restricted various forms of collaboration with federal immigration enforcement by local and state agencies.

While some local law enforcement and corrections agencies took quick action to adapt to the new law, prohibited practices continued long after the law’s passage in many places. UWCHR’s report documents law enforcement and jails sharing restricted information with ICE and CBP; jails holding people in detention or notifying immigration authorities of their impending release; and local police and sheriffs collaborating with federal immigration enforcement during routine traffic stops and other operations.

Panorama of the Pacific Northwest from Space. Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center. ISS042-E-294596.

Read the full Immigrant Rights Observatory report, Protecting Immigrant Rights: Is Washington’s Law Working?

These are some of the findings of a new report, Protecting Immigrant Rights: Is Washington’s Law Working?, released today by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR). The report is the first from the UWCHR’s “Immigrant Rights Observatory”, drawing on extensive public records research and a unique collection of ICE and CBP documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, which document all immigration enforcement apprehensions in Washington state from January 2019 through March 2020.

In addition to highlighting specific violations of the Keep Washington Working act, the report notes various areas unaddressed by the laws that remain cause for concern. These include regular transfers of custody from the WA Department of Corrections to ICE upon completion of state sentences, resulting in what some have called “double punishment”; ongoing inter-agency task forces and joint operations between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities which can result in civil immigration arrests; and interoperability between local and federal law enforcement databases, which may lead Washingtonians to be targeted for deportation following an arrest, even if they are never charged or convicted of a crime.

“We’re of course concerned that in many places around our state, the law has yet to be fully implemented; we hope making these ongoing violations public will bring pressure for them to stop,” said UWCHR Director Prof. Angelina Godoy. “But we’re also worried that the law was written in such a way that even without violating it, many jurisdictions continue to treat some Washingtonians differently under the law solely because of their national origins or immigration status.”

Washington’s experience implementing KWW may contain broad lessons. As more and more states pass legislation to safeguard immigrant rights—Illinois’ governor signed landmark legislation just last week; similar bills entered into force in California in 2019 and in Oregon last month, arguably making all three West Coast states “sanctuary” jurisdictions—this type of detailed analysis as to how such laws are actually playing out in practice will be increasingly necessary.

“In 2019 our communities inspired the legislature and Governor Inslee to pass laws prohibiting sheriffs and police from participating in the ICE dragnet that has devastated families, diminished communities and made us all less safe,” said Annie Benson, Senior Directing Attorney for the Washington Defender Association. “Laws only work when they are actually implemented. The Center for Human Rights report makes clear that much work remains to be done. Sheriffs and police failing to follow the law must be held accountable.”

During 2021-2022, the UWCHR will continue to research compliance with KWW and the Courts Open To All (COTA) act, alongside community partners including the Washington Defender Association, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, ACLU of Washington, Columbia Legal Services, OneAmerica, and Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network. Other projects under the banner of UWCHR’s “Human Rights At Home” include ongoing research into ICE Air deportation flights, human rights conditions at the Northwest Detention Center (Northwest ICE Processing Center) in Tacoma, and a quantitative analysis of nationwide immigration enforcement and detention trends.

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.