Report: Washington police agencies continued working with ICE despite sanctuary laws

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Aug. 11, 2021 9:41 p.m.

Some agencies have changed, the report said, while others fall short. At least two sheriff’s offices have disputed the report’s findings.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland, Oregon.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland, Oregon.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Collaboration between police departments and federal immigration enforcers has persisted around Washington, despite laws designed to tamp it down, according to a report released on Wednesday.


Deputies and officers in local law enforcement have helped federal agents make traffic stops, according to the 39-page report, and freely given personal information about inmates to federal officers.

One county sheriff’s office would fax a list of inmates and their birthplaces to federal officers. Some continued to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when undocumented inmates would be released from jail, providing specific dates and times.

The University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights compiled the report. Researchers said they sought to examine the effectiveness of so-called sanctuary laws.

The laws — the Keep Washington Working Act in 2019, and the Courts Open To All Act in 2020 — attempt to untangle sheriffs’ offices and police departments from federal deportation efforts.

“One of the principles of (the new laws) is: being present in the country without authorization is not the purview of local law enforcement,” said Phil Neff, a researcher.

The Keep Washington Working Act is the broader of the two laws. It largely prohibits state and local agencies from working with the ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection on immigration issues without a signed warrant.

OPB reported in July how jail deputies at Clark County continue to email ICE officers on an almost daily basis since Washington’s new laws passed to share inmates’ information, like records, dates of birth, and even fingerprints. Similar actions occurred in Cowlitz County, as well.

Neff said he and a team of researchers worked on the report for 18 months. They relied on records of policy changes, emails, and thousands of pages of forms that federal officers complete when they arrest a person headed for deportation. They examined 13 of Washington’s 39 counties, which comprise about 68% of the state population.

The report describes a patchwork of compliance. Some agencies have changed, the report said, while others fall short. At least two sheriff’s offices have disputed the report’s findings.

In January 2020, for example, ICE records documented two Grant County sheriff’s deputies helped an ICE officer pull over a driver who left his house around 7:40 a.m., which then led to the man’s arrest.


In Franklin County, records reportedly showed jail staff faxing an “Inmate Place of Birth Report” to ICE staff based in Richland, Washington.

In Okanogan County, near the U.S.-Canada border, the county jail allowed border patrol officers to interview an inmate even after he marked ‘decline’ on official forms in March 2020. Such interviews are voluntary.

The report attributed the actions to different factors.

Confusion swept through police departments after the laws went into effect, records showed. Some agencies even held meetings with ICE specifically to discuss the laws’ requirements.

Entrenched relationships also played a role, the report said. It’s not uncommon for local agencies to serve on federal task forces. Local agencies also vie for grant funding from federal programs, which in turn urge cooperation.

According to the report, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office recently used federal grant money to buy license plate readers. In email records, one chief deputy said they not only allow border patrol access to their database but also field requests for people to watch.

Still, officials from Franklin and Okanogan counties disagreed with some of the report’s findings.

The Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said faxes with birthplaces did occur, but, once the sanctuary laws went into effect, any faxes were sent “in error.”

“We have now ensured that all staff are aware of those changes. As you can see from our policies, place of birth is no longer requested during the booking process,” wrote Jennifer Johnson, chief civil deputy prosecutor on Aug. 2, in a letter obtained by OPB.

Johnson’s letter also said the report inaccurately stated Franklin County detains inmates at ICE’s request, and that it works on a task force with the federal agency.

Likewise, Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said in a phone interview that their cooperation with border patrol doesn’t extend to illegal immigration. As a border county, he said, they regularly deal with drug- and human-trafficking cases.

“They’re not strictly an immigration agency. We share information because there could be somebody they’re looking to contact based on a criminal contact,” Hawley said.

Hawley said Okanogan’s jail only detains people when there is probable cause for a crime, as reviewed by a judge. He disputed that the report’s allegations they detain individuals solely for immigration.

The university’s report did share some positivity about Washington’s new sanctuary laws. Some counties, researchers said, promptly changed policies. Others have changed policies after learning they fell short of the law, the report said.

“Undoubtedly, uniform adoption of (the sanctuary laws) will take time, and we hope this investigation can contribute to the conversation as to how best to get there,” the report said.