SEATTLE — Federal authorities want King County Council members to reject a proposal that would make it easier for immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission to avoid immigration authorities while behind bars facing minor charges.
The plan in question would end the current practice of holding immigrants accused of petty crimes in jail pending a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement background check.
ICE official Nathalie Asher appeared at a meeting of the King County Council justice committee on Tuesday to oppose the new plan, saying immigrants accused of minor offenses could well have a "more significant" criminal background and go on to commit further crime. She said her agency is better equipped than local authorities to examine a suspect's record, The Seattle Times reported.
15 cases in 18 months
Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's office in Seattle also opposed the measure, sending a letter to the council Monday stating that authorities have prosecuted 15 cases in the past 18 months that were generated because of ICE holds at the King County jail, KING 5 News reported.
The letter said those 15 defendants have a combined 85 prior criminal convictions including assault, indecent exposure, rape by force and numerous drug-related convictions.
Supporters say the proposal pending in Washington state's largest county wouldn't end ICE-requested holds. The measure, sponsored by Councilman Larry Gossett, includes exceptions allowing the immigration holds for those facing more serious charges -- including violent crimes, sex crimes and serious traffic offenses.
Immigrants' rights advocates say Gossett's plan is necessary to prevent lengthy detentions and possible deportation for those who have not been convicted of crimes.