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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Suspected Immigration Violators Face Long Waits in King County Jails

King County Jail in downtown Seattle.
King County Photo

If you’re booked into a King County jail, you’ll stay an extra month on average if immigration officials want to review your file. That’s even if you haven’t been charged with a crime.

This finding is part of a new report today from the University of Washington, written by sociologists Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans.

The report comes as King County officials are considering changes to their partnership with federal immigration authorities. Last month, County Executive Dow Constantine sent a letter to council members outlining ways to shift how the Sheriff’s Department works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE can place holds on people booked into jail who may be in the US illegally. King County honors all those requests but Constantine’s letter proposes more limitations on who can be held.

A handful of counties in other states have moved toward similar limitations in response to the recent rollout of ICE’s Secure Communities program. It allows ICE to directly access jail fingerprints and place a hold, which is officially called a detainer.

The UW study analyzed King County jail data from 2011. It found about one in eight people with ICE holds were not charged with any crime. It also found that half of the inmates with holds were charged with misdemeanor crimes, including driving without a license.

Immigrant advocates point out these findings conflict with ICE’s policy to focus on serious criminals. “The report confirms that these detainers cause individuals to be detained unfairly and do not protect public safety,” said Shankar Narayan, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart has also said that “refining the criteria for honoring immigration detainers will go a long way to build the trust that is so critical for cooperation between police and the community."

The UW study estimates King County could save nearly $2 million per year if it stopped honoring the ICE holds. But that estimate leaves out part of the equation. An ICE spokesperson notes the feds will reimburse local jails for the cost of a hold beyond four days. In 2011, King County received more than $1 million in reimbursements.

Year started with KUOW: 2006