ICE wants to talk a tough game against cities like Seattle that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants.
Problem is, ICE doesn’t seem to know what its game is.
In a series of press releases Thursday and Friday, the agency repeatedly put out erroneous information about an immigration sweep in Seattle. Or Portland. Or maybe Tukwila.
Things started out in Portland, where, as the Oregonian reports, ICE announced on Thursday it had arrested 33 undocumented immigrants as part of Operation Safe City, a four-day campaign focused on jurisdictions that do not honor “detainer” requests—or requests ICE sends to local law enforcement holding on to people ICE wants to arrest. It was a pointed release, considering that just a week before, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had come to Portland to rail against sanctuary cities.
However, 15 hours after that release was put out, ICE retracted the figures. In fact, the Oregonian reports, the number arrested in Portland was four, a non-exceptional figure for the area.
“This was actually our normal fugitive arrests operation for the area,” ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley told the paper. “It’s something that we do every day.”
Rather than retracting the release about Operation Safe City altogether, though, the agency re-wrote it, this time saying that the 33 arrests were made in Seattle.
That set off a flurry of media coverage here, including in Seattle Weekly.
Yet, once again, the numbers were wrong. In fact, only one arrest occurred in Seattle; another 25 arrests occurred across Washington, including in Everett, Bellevue, and Tukwila. Another seven occurred in Oregon.
Speaking to Seattle Weekly, Haley says that the confusion arose from the fact that the ICE field office responsible for Washington, Oregon, and Alaska is based in Seattle.
The context of all this bluster is ICE’s crackdown on cities that don’t honor those detainers.
Detainer requests are requests made by federal authorities to local jurisdictions to hold on to people they arrest in order to give federal agents time to come to the jail and seize them; several courts have ruled that detaining someone not because of a crime they committed but because another government agency wants to get their hands on them is unconstitutional. Many jurisdictions have also concluded that honoring detainer requests makes cities less safe, because it gives people a disincentive to make contact with law enforcement.
When King County banned the honoring of detainer requests in 2014, Councilmember Larry Gossett said:
“I am very pleased with the passage of this legislation as it aligns our policies with recent federal rulings. Of equal importance, it maintains public safety by honoring criminal warrants, which is the norm for anyone in the criminal justice system, and moves us closer to treating all those being detained in our correctional facilities with the same level of justice regardless of their immigration status.”
More recently, the King County Sheriff’s Department was commended by a University of Washington human rights group for its strong language against working with ICE.
“Detainers and ICE warrants are not based on probable cause. They are not signed by a neutral judge or magistrate, but are typically signed by almost anyone authorized within ICE. They are not reviewed by any court. They cannot be served by local law enforcement,” reads a directive from Sheriff John Urquhart.
However, ICE maintains that not honoring retainer requests make cities more dangerous.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” said ICE Acting Director Tom Homan in the press release announcing Operation Safe City. “As a result, ICE is forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.”
We’ll let you know if they retract that statement, as well.