This spring quarter, the Benjamin Linder Fellowship has allowed me the opportunity to continue the research into the enforcement of the Keep Washington Working (KWW) and Courts Open To All (COTA) acts which UWCHR’s Immigrant Rights Observatory team began conducting in 2019. Their August 2021 report, Protecting Immigrant Rights: Is Washington’s Law Working?, analyzed the ways that local law enforcement agencies have been complying with or evading the law, which prohibits sharing non-public information with ICE/CBP for the purpose of civil immigration enforcement. The Immigrant Rights Observatory team found that in many counties across Washington, law enforcement and jails continued to work with federal immigration enforcement in ways that violate the law. Local police and sheriff’s deputies continued to call federal agents to traffic stops and jails persisted in requesting place of birth and citizenship information and sharing it with ICE/CBP. In addition, ICE continued to submit detainer requests to local jails and these detainers were honored in some jurisdictions by holding immigrants beyond their release date. These findings suggested to the research team that continued study of the law was still necessary, and our non-profit organizational partners agreed. I joined the team this spring quarter and have been working with the Observatory team as we define the next steps and priorities for further research.
The recent deaths of at least 53 migrants in San Antonio, Texas has once again highlighted the violence inflicted by the United States’ harsh immigration laws and border enforcement. This legal violence applies to immigration enforcement far from the border as well, including in Washington state, in what is known as “interior” immigration enforcement. Long before outcry about family separation policies at the border under the Trump administration, ICE was separating families inside the United States by arresting, detaining, and deporting parents, grandparents, and siblings. Research has shown that family separation, prolonged detention, and deportation have many negative social, financial, educational, and mental and physical health consequences for individual immigrants and their families. My previous work at an immigration law firm in Seattle and volunteer experience with Casa Alitas, a shelter for asylum seekers in Tucson, has shown me the tremendous damage caused by these policies firsthand. Sanctuary laws such as KWW and COTA are one means that states have developed to limit the impact of ICE in their communities and ensure that state resources are not going towards actions that lead to lengthy (and unconstitutional) detentions, family separations, and trauma for those involved.
UWCHR’s research primarily uses public records requests to track communication between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration enforcement officials. My regular responsibilities include filing public records requests to various county and city agencies in Washington and tracking responses to these requests, which regularly take months to be fulfilled. When these records arrive, student researchers analyze them, looking for possible violations of KWW or COTA, or gray areas that should be included in our consideration of gaps in the law. Most of these records are unremarkable, and the fact that the majority do not show violations could make one question the importance of this research. However, for a research methods class this spring quarter I conducted a literature review about sanctuary laws in other states and counties, which illustrated for me the large impact of these laws. Few studies have been conducted about the impact of sanctuary laws on ICE arrests and deportations, but those few showed impressive results that drove home for me the importance of KWW and COTA and UWCHR’s study of their implementation. Hausman compared counties with sanctuary policies to those without and found that local sanctuary policies reduce deportations of people fingerprinted by local authorities by one-third. Deportation rates among noncitizens with either no convictions or minor convictions fell even further, by over one-half. Mancina and Chan reported on the impact of the California Values Act, a state sanctuary law similar to Washington’s KWW. They showed that the first five months of the California Values Act resulted in a 41% decrease in ICE arrests at local jails compared to the previous five months, despite serious implementation problems and flouting of the law on the part of many local law enforcement agencies.
A previous UWCHR report analyzed ICE data and discovered that from 2014 to 2018, almost half of ICE arrests in Washington state were carried out in collaboration with local jails. This method of ICE apprehension is now restricted by the provisions of KWW. Given the above research about California’s sanctuary law, the prohibitions of KWW could have a significant impact, even despite the law’s shortcomings. Remembering this helps to ground me as a researcher whose daily work can be dispiriting, since it only uncovers violations of the law. Yet for every violation found, there are likely many people who have benefited from the law already. These unknown and unenumerated victories should be celebrated, even as the UWCHR and our partners strive to improve the law. As a Master’s student in both the Jackson School of International Studies and the Evans School of Public Policy, conducting this research is an exciting way to explore how state policy can have a positive impact on issues that have long been in gridlock at the federal level. I hope that UWCHR’s research about KWW and COTA can help improve the law in Washington state and serve as a lesson for other states that are considering passing sanctuary laws as well.