Crime

Local police say it takes a court order to bring an immigrant to jail, but not to call the feds

Local law enforcement agencies say that when a routine background check finds someone has been flagged by immigration officials, they take the person to jail only if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a federal court order. But if the system shows a request to contact an ICE agent, local officers might do so. In practice, some say, those flags don’t pop up often.
Local law enforcement agencies say that when a routine background check finds someone has been flagged by immigration officials, they take the person to jail only if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a federal court order. But if the system shows a request to contact an ICE agent, local officers might do so. In practice, some say, those flags don’t pop up often. Thinkstock photo

How can someone end up in the custody of immigration officials after being contacted by local police?

Often it takes a criminal arrest for federal officials to find out local law enforcement have come across someone in the country illegally.

But that’s not the only way.

For example, federal agents picked up a man Feb. 9 after a minor crash on Interstate 5 in Tacoma. They came after a routine background check showed a notice from immigration officials, and a Washington State Patrol trooper called federal agents.

Other local law enforcement agencies say they might contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if a request to do so pops up during a routine database check, even if the person hasn’t committed a crime.

But they say they won’t detain someone for immigration purposes without a court order.

Tacoma police spokeswoman Shelbie Boyd said she has not gotten an immigration hit when doing a routine background check during the 11 years she’s been an officer in East Tacoma.

But if ICE got a court order that showed up in the computer system during a routine stop, officers would take the person to the jail, just as they would with other warrants, she said.

Given the hypothetical of an officer who pulls someone over for a burnt-out taillight, she said she would call ICE if she ran the driver’s license and saw a notice from the agency requesting contact.

Other agencies issue those notices, she said, adding she once responded to one from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

But she said she wouldn’t detain the person in the taillight scenario or take the person to jail based only on a request from ICE.

“If I don’t have a reason to detain someone, I’m not going to detain them,” she said.

But in the State Patrol case, it didn’t matter that Armando Chavez Corona wasn’t detained beyond the time it took to clear the accident scene.

After getting the call from the State Patrol about the accident and Chavez Corona’s location, ICE agents arrived as troopers were still working and took him into custody.

Chavez Corona, a felon who had a drug conviction and who had been deported previously, is expected to be deported in coming days, his family told KOMO-TV last week.

Given the taillight scenario, Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said of his deputies: “We might contact ICE under those circumstances.”

But he said that doesn’t mean the deputy would take the person into custody until ICE agents arrived. To do that, ICE would need a court order from a federal judge.

“We ought to be careful about rights,” Pastor said. “That’s part of our job.”

In practice, he said, much of his agency’s contact with ICE happens at the Pierce County Jail. Agents review jails logs, which are public, and if they find someone on their list to detain, they can ask the jail to alert them when the person is to be released, so that ICE can then pick the person up.

But the jail also requires a court order to hold that person beyond their release date, a requirement Pierce County started in line with a federal court decision in 2014.

Since then, the so-called immigration “detainers” at the jail have decreased significantly. In 2014, 136 people were released from the jail to ICE custody. There were 48 in 2015, 29 in 2016 and there have been six so far this year.

Presumably some of those people ended up at the for-profit federal immigration detention center run by The Geo Group on the Tacoma Tideflats. The center has had an average daily population of 1,516 for the 2017 fiscal year, local ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson said.

Jonathan Moore works with defense attorneys who have questions about immigration proceedings, as part of the Washington Defender Association. He said he doesn’t think anything would prevent police from calling ICE in the taillight scenario, or requires them to do so.

He thinks a potential danger of that system would be a temptation for officers to drag out a stop until ICE agents arrived.

“I think if people understand that, if you get pulled over by the police for a garden variety sort of stop, that they’re going to call ICE on you, that it will affect people’s perception of the police,” he said.

But he wasn’t sure what it would take for someone to be flagged by ICE in the police system: Prior deportations, a conviction for illegal border crossing or a more serious crime.

Richeson did not respond to a request Friday for examples of why a federal immigration agent might put out a request for contact.

“It would be logical to prioritize, but (President Donald Trump’s) executive order that came out on Jan. 25 kind of just said: ‘Get everyone,’ ” Moore said.

Pastor said he heard Trump speak about the order this month at a Washington, D.C., conference of sheriff’s and police chiefs.

“I think people have an image of: ‘Oh, well, with what’s going on, you’re cruising around, looking for people in the country illegally,” Pastor said. “We don’t have the time or the resources.”

Asked about possible pressure from the suggestion in Trump’s order that local law enforcement take a bigger roll in immigration enforcement, Pastor said: “God bless the presidency, but it’s not in my chain of command.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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