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WA law enforcement continues to violate Keep Washington Working Act by feeding info to ICE


Police, jail staff and other local law enforcement across Washington state continue to share information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and Customs and Border Protection, facilitating arrests and deportations despite a law that prohibits such cooperation, according to a new report by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights.

Researchers at the university found that law enforcement in various counties across the state continue to violate the Keep Washington Working Act, a law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2019, which prohibits local jails from holding people for federal immigration officials unless a warrant is signed by a judge.  

The law also bars Customs and Border Protection and ICE from interviewing inmates without written consent, and it prohibits local law enforcement from sharing certain information about people, such as place of birth and an inmate’s release date.  

Despite the law, interviews and documents obtained through public records requests show that local law enforcement in a number of counties continued to facilitate arrests based on immigration status. 

The Grant County Sheriff's Office Correctional Facility, for example, says it continues to notify immigration officials when “any foreign national is committed to the custody of the correctional facility,” though that policy is at odds with other statements inlcuded in its custody manual. 

In Clark County, the sheriff’s office has responded to regular requests for information, providing dates of birth, booking photos, arrest narratives and other non-public information. In Cowlitz County, researchers discovered frequent correspondence between ICE deportation officers and local law enforcement. 

Local law enforcement have also allowed immigration officials into county jails where they’ve sometimes interviewed inmates without consent. Last year, Border Patrol interviewed a Mexican man in Okanogan County Jail even though he never agreed to the interview. Eventually, agents notified ICE, and the agency began deportation proceedings. (Researchers say Okanogan Undersheriff Aaron Culp disputed the accuracy of Customs and Border Protection records, noting he has no record of this interview taking place.) 

Jails in Clark, Franklin, Grant, Okanogan and Skagit counties also continue to hold inmates for immigration authorities, according to the report. 

Researchers say that in Cowlitz County, too, federal immigration officials have frequently used so-called detainers, or holds on inmates, even after the passage of the Keep Washington Working Act.

For example, in 2019 an ICE agent wrote to a county officer: “Attached is [a] detainer… If you guys could call me when he’s going to be released, I’d appreciate it so I can try to make it in time to take custody.”

Within 10 minutes, an officer at Cowlitz County Jail responded: “I have a note in our system to call you before release/transfer. I’ll try to send an email this afternoon after his appearance to update his next court date and bail status,” researchers note. 

In other regions, such as Okanogan County, officials seem to be trying to find a permanent way around the Keep Washington Working Act. Okanogan Undersheriff Culp told university researchers that county officials were uncomfortable with the “heavy political overtones” of the Keep Washington Working Act and sought guidance from Border Patrol.

In 2019, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley asked Border Patrol agent Aaron McNair, “If possible could you also research any federal laws which may help contradict the states law for sanctuary state?” 

Culp also said he does not intend to end his office’s contract with Customs and Border Protection wherein the jail gets paid per day for every person it holds for the agency.

The Keep Washington Working Act stipulates such contracts should end by the end of this year. 

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 11, 7:52 a.m. to include comment from Okanogan Undersheriff Aaron Culp.

Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to