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Sheriff Urges King Co. to Honor Fewer Immigration Detainers

King County’s sheriff says he’s concerned that people in immigrant communities are afraid to call the police for fear of getting deported. That’s why he’s supporting a measure to limit the county’s cooperation with federal detention requests. 

The main way that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, finds people who are here illegally is through the criminal justice system. Local jails are now required to turn over fingerprint data to the FBI, which shares it with ICE. 

When the immigration authorities find someone they think might be here illegally, they issue a so-called detainer request. That’s a notice to the local jail that ICE wants to take custody of the person once they’ve been released from jail.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart says the county’s full cooperation up until now with detainer requests is hurting his ability to fight crime.

"We cannot be an effective police agency and therefore reduce crime, and the fear of crime, if people are afraid to call us because they think they're going to get deported, either as a victim or a witness," Urquhart told aKing County Council committee.

That’s one reason why King County Council Chair Larry Gossett wants to limit the detainer requests the county honors to people who have been convicted of a serious or violent crime. He says his approach would keep King County safe but at the same time not flag people to the immigration authorities who pose no threat.

A spokesman for ICE in Seattle declined to comment. The council will hold more hearings before bringing it up for a vote. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.