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A ‘sanctuary’ playbook, by the guy who beat Trump in court

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson

When it comes to undocumented immigrants, what's your role as a city, school or hospital? Or cop?

Public officials across the state have put these questions to Bob Ferguson, attorney general for Washington state, and the guy who convinced a judge to quash President Trump’s travel ban.

The questions came from state and local government staff who work directly with immigrants -- in benefits offices, schools and courts -- as they noticed people were increasingly afraid to show up or provide personal information, according to staff who work with Ferguson.

So his office produced a document with some answers about what agencies can and can't do. Roughly 100 pages of them.

“There’s a lot of misconception about this," said Ferguson. "Frankly, a lot of it coming from the new administration.”

The goal behind this document, Ferguson said, is to help cities, counties and public agencies know their legal options concerning immigration enforcement.

These 8 tips for Washington agencies stood out:

1. Jails: You must provide immigration officials with the date and reason a noncitizen was booked in jail, in addition to other information. But you don’t have to say when that person is released.

2. Courts: You may announce when immigration agents are present, or let people use pseudonyms or request hearings via remote video.

3. Schools: You don’t have to request information that could have a “chilling effect” on enrollment.  You can allow families to opt-out of having directory information shared, for example. You can also consider other ways to share information, like a pre-recorded message families can call in to hear, if families are fearful of showing up at public meetings.

4. Hospitals: You can ask patients if they want their room location withheld while they are in hospital.

5. Employers: If a raid happens at your workplace, you can record it with a video camera or your phone. Make it known that you are recording. Also, if people are arrested, you can give them a form to request bond.

6. Employers: If immigration agents ask to enter a private space or building, you can ask to see a warrant. Make sure the warrant:

  • Includes a judge’s signature
  • Properly identifies the agency with authority to search
  • Correctly identifies the search location
  • Includes the correct date and has not expired

7. Police: Officers can’t arrest someone without probable cause. It’s not a crime for someone to live in the U.S. without proper documentation. It’s a civil violation, unless that person has been previously deported. This means that rights and protections may apply to non-citizens.
8. Schools, hospitals, churches: Be aware. Although these places are widely viewed as “sensitive locations,” the Department of Homeland Security could rescind that policy with little notice.

Read the full document here.

“This is obviously an emerging and critical legal and policy discussion going on in our country and in our state,” Ferguson said. Recently, a law enforcement leader in a “deep, deep red county” in Eastern Washington asked him for guidance. “It’s not about a political party affiliation,” said Ferguson. “It’s folks just wanting to know: what are the options? What is required?”

Learn more: Listen to the full interview with Attorney General Bob Ferguson

After reviewing the guidance, some public officials said it will likely prompt a review of their policies and additional staff training.

“I want to be able to say to our families that school is still the safest and best place for your children to be during the day,” said Nancy Coogan, superintendent of the Tukwila School District.

But Coogan said she gasped as she read in the AG’s guidance that ICE’s current policy to avoid enforcement at schools “might be rescinded…at any point in the future.”

She worried that message in itself could have a chilling effect on school families. She said absences have increased since the election and parents recently raised reservations about attending a school celebration.

“Right now they’re so afraid they won’t even come to something like that,” Coogan said.

Still, she appreciates the AG’s office is taking this issue seriously and she hopes the guidance will be translated in many languages.

Ed Holmes, Mercer Island Police Chief, is currently updating his policy on immigration so the AG’s advice comes at an opportune time. He’d like to see this guidance lead to more uniform police policies around the state, so people know what to expect from city to city.

“Maybe they live on Mercer Island but they pass through a different city on their way to work,” Holmes said. “I think it's important that they know ahead of time what the policy is. How will this certain police officer or deputy interact with me given my immigration status?”

Although Holmes stressed that his agency will not enforce federal immigration laws, they will continue to work with ICE in their efforts to remove dangerous criminals from the community.

“I think it would be a very sad state of affairs if we got to a place where agencies were no longer cooperating at all with each other,” Holmes said. “Regardless of immigration status, if somebody is harming the community we need to work together to get them off the street.”

ICE officials declined to comment on this new guidance. In recent statements, ICE officials have said “our goal is to build cooperative, respectful relationships with our law enforcement partners.” The agency’s sensitive locations policy is still in effect, including at schools.

However, ICE confirms that it does make targeted arrests at courthouses but “generally it’s only after investigating officers have exhausted other options.”

Attorneys General in New York and California have issued similar guidance on immigration, but Washington’s is believed to be the most comprehensive nationwide.

Have questions or story tips for KUOW’s immigration reporting team? Use this form.

Year started with KUOW: 2006