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Washington Judge Rules County Sheriffs' Immigration Queries Unconstitutional

Immigration advocates are praising a decision by the Pierce County Superior Court which ruled that local law-enforcement officials’ cannot detain individuals to question their immigration status. Judge Kathryn Nelson wrote in the decision, that local law-enforcement does “not have the authority to enforce federal immigration law nor prolong a detention to question individuals about their immigration status….”

The ruling refers specifically to a 2010 case in which two Kitsap County sheriffs pulled over a truck for suspicion of illegal harvesting of shellfish and a broken headlight. They showed the sheriffs both proper identification and a commercial license for the shellfish. The questioning continued for about an hour, mostly about their immigration status and countries of origin, which, according to the court, violates their state constitutional rights. The US Border Patrol was called, and the group was taken into custody.

Had the group been arrested, these questions would have been appropriate, but since they produced valid identification and commercial licenses, they should have been sent on their way. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project both brought the lawsuit and was able to secure the release of the group and the termination of the immigration proceedings against them.

This ruling comes on the heels of a proposed ordinance that would change the way King County, Kitsap’s neighbor to the East, would handle detention requests from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. Under the new ordinance, King County would only honor detainer requests for immigrants who have committed “serious or violent crimes.”

The problems inherent with immigration are affecting other communities across America, but reform efforts promised by Congress during the 2012 election seem unlikely, despite intervention from private advocates. Attention is instead focused on other issues, and immigration reform will likely be too hot an issue during next year’s mid-term elections.


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