Franklin, Benton counties near top of state in federal immigration arrests

The Benton County Jail in Kennewick

The Benton County Jail at the Benton County Justice Center in west Kennewick has a capacity to house about 700 inmates.
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The Benton County Jail at the Benton County Justice Center in west Kennewick has a capacity to house about 700 inmates.

Benton and Franklin counties are near the top of the state for federal immigration arrests, and a pair of University of Washington researchers say the local jails play a big role.

A report published by the university’s Center for Human Rights claims collaboration between local and federal officials make the jails the last place most immigrants see before ending up in federal custody.

The Nov. 27 report was written by graduate researcher Francisca Gómez Baeza and undergraduate Marí Ramirez. It uses information from the Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Clearinghouse.

The clearinghouse won a court battle with federal officials to get the last four years of federal immigration arrests from across the country.

The data breaks down the arrests across several factors including by year, and whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported the person was convicted before they were arrested.

The initial data didn’t include where the arrests happened, but the clearinghouse used other records to figure out the state and county.

Franklin and Benton counties rank third and fourth in ICE arrests in Washington, with 522 from Franklin County and 516 from Benton County in the four years ending in May 2018.

They trail only King and Yakima counties for the most arrests during those years.

But Franklin County was No. 1 based on its population. Benton County was fifth.

It’s a common practice

Researchers know where most of the arrests are being made — local jails.

In Washington, 47 percent of arrests happened at the jails compared with 37 percent nationwide, according to the research.

The report says ICE agents made 84 percent of their Franklin arrests and 71 percent of Benton arrests as the person was leaving the jail for other charges.

ICE agents go over the jail rosters every day for people they want to arrest. They give a list of picks to the sheriff’s office, who then give the agents release dates.

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond and Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher say they’re following the law and cooperating with their federal partners.

“There is no collusion,” Hatcher said. “We have cooperated all along with our federal law enforcement partners. We try to give them 24 hours notice.”

According to a memo issued last year, the immigration agents focus on people:

  • With a criminal conviction

  • Charged with a crime

  • Misrepresented themselves to a government agency

  • Abused a public benefit program

  • Refused to leave the country

  • Pose a risk to public safety of national security.

A Department of Homeland Security memo from February 2017 spells out the policy.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement no longer exempts classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” said Tanya Roman, the public information officer for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The sheriffs told people attending a spring immigration forum that ICE only picks a third of the people they want to be notified about.

“We don’t hold immigrants on ICE holds or any of those types of things,” Raymond said. “They come in. They have a look at who is in jail on criminal charges and they place the holds, and that will be replaced by a warrant or transport if they’re going to take them.”

Phil Neff, a project coordinator with the university’s center, agreed it is a common practice for jails to provide information to immigration officials.

But that information is more detailed than what a normal person might find online.

“We and other partner organizations are also reviewing documents which suggest that in some jurisdictions, the relationship is much closer, including extensive information sharing in both directions ... of information not included in the public jail roster, such as place of birth, full booking reports and alien registration numbers,” he said.

Both Tri-City sheriffs said the information they send over is publicly available.

The roster officials send over has each inmate’s date of birth, nationality and what charge they are facing.

The jails are required by law to record what country a person is from, so officials can contact the inmate’s consulate.

Both sheriffs said deputies don’t care and won’t ask a person about what country they’re from.

Immigration2 (1).JPG
The Northwest Detention Center, a privately owned and operated immigration detention center was built on the Tacoma Tideflats to replace a similar facility in Seattle. Dean J. Koepfler News Tribune file photo

Immigrants make up a small portion of the jail populations.

Benton County houses an average of 30 immigrants each day, with nearly 90 percent of them being undocumented, Hatcher said at the forum.

Franklin County has 29 immigrants, with 80 percent of them undocumented, Raymond said.

That compares with a maximum of 500 to 700 inmates in Benton County, and a Franklin County jail that can hold as many as 200.

Both sheriffs said they comply with a federal court ruling that requires immigration officials to get a warrant to hold anyone after they’ve been released from local charges.

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King County policy

One of the few places where the county jail doesn’t contribute the majority of arrests is King County, according to the data. Across the four year period, it represents nearly half of all arrests in the state — 3,431.

But the King County jail was only involved in 571 of those arrests.

Gómez Baeza and Ramirez pinned the difference on a 2014 county policy where the county requires ICE to get a warrant before the county tells them about releasing a foreign national.

When the King County Council signed off on the ordinance, they said it struck the right balance between protecting the rights of inmates and public safety.

The policy was bolstered by a 2018 ordinance that bans county officials from asking about a person’s nationality.

While the researchers credited the policies as making a difference, Neff said the center is still figuring out why King County is the outlier.

The researchers noted that King County’s stance hasn’t cut the number of arrests, implying ICE is more active in the state’s most populated county.

ICE officials told the Herald that while cooperation can make a difference in the number of arrests, other things can explain the differences, like local crime trends or simply having an office closer to the county.

What we don’t know

One of the reasons the clearinghouse’s data is so important is that ICE data is scarce, Neff said.

“Access to information about ICE’s activities is sorely lacking, and this impedes our ability to understand what is happening in our communities and assess its impacts,” he said.

Claims by ICE’s boosters and detractors are hard to evaluate because of the lack of data, Neff said. The public can’t tell whether ICE’s activity is unprecedented, or if the arrests help the public good.

Susan B. Long, one of the Syracuse researchers leading the clearinghouse, said they are still involved in an ongoing court battle to get more information ICE.

For instance, the data doesn’t show whether the people arrested by ICE had a previous conviction.

The UW researchers pointed to a heading in the clearinghouse’s records that said the people picked up did not have a conviction.

“This data shows that many of those swept up in ICE enforcement have no criminal convictions or have committed only minor offenses,” they wrote. “This means that these actions have no public safety benefit.”

The heading though only refers to their current arrest, and it’s not clear whether the people arrested had any previous convictions, according to Long and Neff.

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402; Twitter: @cameroncprobert