King Co. mulls telling feds 'no' to immigration holds for petty crimes

SEATTLE-- King County wants to take a stand against the federal government and say "no" to keeping illegal immigrants jailed when they should be released.

It would be the first county in the state to do this.

Right now, there are 1,801 people booked into King County Jail, and of those, there are 94 that have a hold on their release put on by federal immigration agents.

Some say, including other major cities, that putting a hold on people that have been arrested for minor crimes goes beyond the reach of federal agents. So King County leaders may tell the feds we won't hold them on our dime.

The prrocess begins with a fingerprint. Anyone that's booked into a county jail gets identified through fingerprints. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, routinely asks local jails for those identities to see if the arrestee is properly documented. If not, ICE agents can request jails to detain the arrestee at least 48 hours in case they need more time to build a case for deportation.

But a University of Washington study showed that 48 hours often turns into 29 days with county governments paying the jail bill.

So King County is thinking of saying no to federal requests to hold detainees booked into jail for lessor crimes -- that county prosecutors would normally release -- and only holding a detainee with a prior serious felony conviction, saying ICE's reach is going too far.

"It's also leading to a lot of family members, families in the immigrant community to be split apart unnecessarily, particularly when we are at a time when debating immigration reform," said Jorge Baron, the executive director of the Northwest Human Rights Project.

Seattle's mayor and city council are on board.

"We would like our county to not comply," mayor Mike McGinn said.

Seattle's police chief says the detainee policy has had a chilling effect on immigrants reporting crime.

"Because if a Seattle police car comes and makes a lawful arrest, then the last thing that immigrant's family sees is a Seattle police car taking the person away," Chief Jim Pugel said. "The next thing they heard is that the person's being deported, so they look at the police and say you did this to us, where in fact we didn't."

Last year, ICE requested holds on 910 people and more than half were booked for misdemeanor crimes, and 80 percent were Hispanic.

New York City, San Francisco County and the entire state of Connecticut have put similar restrictions in place.