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Dec. 9, 2021

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Clark Asks: Local law enforcement and immigration issues

No jurisdiction in Clark County has declared itself a 'sanctuary city'

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter
Published:

Clark Asks: How much does law enforcement in Clark County cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or is this a “sanctuary” area?

With so much talk of so-called sanctuary cities in the news this past year, reader Ed Delph wondered whether any jurisdictions in Clark County cooperated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or if this area offers immigrants sanctuary.

Delph posed the question recently to Clark Asks, our feature in which we report on readers’ questions about the local community.

“My concern is that our wonderful state/county could be another California, with all of the sanctuary problems and resulting legal issues,” Delph wrote in an email. “We have federal laws that are supposed to deal with this issue.”

And those federal laws are at the crux of the issue.

In Clark County, no jurisdiction has declared itself a “sanctuary city,” and local and law enforcement officials say they cooperate with federal immigration investigations as needed.

The Vancouver Police Department’s policies dictate officers are to cooperate with federal immigration officials when requested.

They also prohibit officers from detaining anyone solely on suspicion of violating immigration laws. Officers are also prohibited from making specific requests for information regarding someone’s immigration status, or engaging in any enforcement actions based on someone’s immigration status, race or English language skills.

Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said the American Civil Liberties Union, with the participation of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the NAACP, reviewed the policy and gave it high marks.

Both the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Vancouver Police Department will not detain people simply at the request of ICE. Detaining anyone, both agencies, say, requires a warrant.

“Local law enforcement are not tasked with enforcing federal immigration laws,” Chief Assistant Vancouver City Attorney Jonathan Young said.

Local police will share available information and assist with investigations as required by the law, but the city isn’t in the business of immigration enforcement.

“At its core, (the) Vancouver police wants to encourage crime reporting,” Young said. “Part of that is our community members have to feel secure in contacting and being addressed by members of law enforcement.”

The Washington State Patrol cooperates with criminal federal immigration investigations, State Patrol spokesman Kyle Moore said in an email.

However, he said, the State Patrol has a long-standing policy to not stop, detain, interrogate or jail on an immigration hold anyone for the purpose of ascertaining someone’s immigration status, he said.

The State Patrol does not attempt in any way to enforce federal immigration laws, he said, a policy adopted in 1999.

Still, Vancouver and Clark County do share policies with other jurisdictions that have enacted sanctuary city ordinances and made a point of calling them that. Considering there isn’t much definitive criteria for what constitutes a sanctuary jurisdiction, the distinctions can get blurry.

Generally, sanctuary jurisdictions have been loosely defined as those which adopt policies limiting their cooperation with federal immigration law enforcement agencies.

Still, there isn’t really a specific criteria for what constitutes a sanctuary jurisdiction. Some “sanctuary” jurisdictions have adopted different policies than others, and some have adopted such policies without ever declaring themselves a sanctuary area.

While immigration policy discussions have been generating controversy for some time, sanctuary cities themselves turned into a political hot topic last year, when the Trump administration issued an executive order threatening to revoke federal grant funding from local jurisdictions it deemed uncooperative regarding immigration enforcement.

The administration pointed specifically to governments that wouldn’t respond to warrantless ICE detainer requests. Clark County, and many others, do not honor such requests, citing federal court rulings saying they violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In January, Spokane settled for $49,000 a lawsuit from a Mexican national who said he was unlawfully detained by an officer following a traffic crash he didn’t cause.

In 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo clarifying the administration’s definitions, saying the executive order referred to jurisdictions that don’t comply with a section of federal law around the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Specifically, the section on how local and state governments communicate with federal immigration agencies.

Multiple lawsuits filed against the administration by local governments regarding the order are pending, but in November 2017, a federal judge ruled the provision of the order that would strip cities of federal grant funding was unconstitutional.

Many cities already make a point to not ask residents about immigration status, leaving them without any information to share.

Jim Doherty, a legal consultant with the Municipal Research and Services Center, said far fewer local government officials have been calling his organization with questions.

The center is a nonprofit that provides legal and policy analysis for local governments in Washington.

Cities and counties want people to feel comfortable using their services, he said.

“Most of the cities, as far as I know, are not going out of the way to inquire into immigrant status,” he said.

Another strong motivator he said is the fact local jurisdictions probably aren’t interested in bearing the costs of enforcing federal immigration law, preferring to leave that to the federal government.

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Columbian environment and transportation reporter
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