UW News

October 2, 2017

UW Center for Human Rights studies law enforcement collaboration with federal agencies on immigration

UW News

Cities and counties concerned about immigrant rights should closely examine law enforcement’s collaboration with federal immigration authorities — and the role a for-profit company has in drafting language used in many law enforcement policy manuals — according to a new report from the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights.

The center, in the Jackson School of International Studies, has released the first in a series of research memos under an initiative called Human Rights at Home, which seeks to “strengthen the work of frontline human rights organizations in Washington state.”

The memo, first in a planned series, is titled “Don’t Ask, Do Tell: Local Law Enforcement Collaboration with ICE/CBP.” It notes the center’s (thus far unanswered) requests for information from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — about immigration enforcement in Washington state.

“We need to be able trust law enforcement to keep us safe,” said center director Angelina Godoy, a professor of international studies and the Law, Societies & Justice Program. “Numerous courts have found that our local police or sheriffs shouldn’t be enforcing immigration law, and for that reason many jurisdictions have barred cops from asking questions about immigration status.

“But if they’re calling ICE to ask the question — and then to haul members of the community away for civil violations — it’s not that different than if they’d done the asking themselves. And it ruptures the immigrant communities’ ability to trust law enforcement.”

The report also describes the center’s survey of scores of police, sheriff and other Washington state agencies on immigration matters and sounds a note of caution about Lexipol LLC, a California-based for-profit company that provides language used in many, though not all, police policy manuals.

To study how jurisdictions “are defining the limits of local law enforcement collaboration with ICE and CBP” in their policy language, the center submitted information requests to 165 Washington state agencies — 131 city or town police departments, 26 county sheriffs and eight state agencies within the 100-mile zone where CBP claims authority to conduct stops.

Studying such agency and other documents, the researchers cited problematic policies now in force:

  • Local policy manuals often tell law enforcement officers to call CBP or ICE to the scene even in encounters where no crime has occurred. Once on the scene, CBP or ICE officers ask about the person’s immigration status — which “effectively converts a local law enforcement encounter into an occasion for immigration enforcement.”
  • Though most jurisdictions instruct jails not to honor federal ICE detainer requests without a warrant, policy manuals offer inadequate guidance on which types of warrants are sufficient to clear Fourth Amendment concerns that would prohibit “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
  • Also, such policy manuals still instruct jails to notify ICE prior to an inmate’s release. “While this represents an improvement over holding them without cause,” the researchers write, “such information-sharing may still facilitate the handoff of inmates to immigration authorities, including in cases where they have not been convicted of any crime.”

Not all jurisdictions, the researchers note, have adopted policy language based on Lexipol’s guidelines, and they cite Seattle and King County as “positive examples.” King County has an ordinance in place barring ICE detainers unless they are accompanied by a judicial warrant.

The researchers cite what they feel are weaknesses in Lexipol’s taxpayer-paid service to public clients.

The company, they write, promises clients up-to-date, “state-specific” information including best practices and developments in immigration case law. But the report finds that Lexipol’s guidance sometimes results in “worse, rather than better” policy language on immigrant rights.

“Many of the policy manuals legitimatize ethnic profiling by suggesting that cops can derive reasonable suspicion of criminal activity from a person’s ability to speak English and ‘other factors based on an officer’s experience,'” Godoy said. “Courts have condemned such behavior.”

The researchers add that jurisdictions might save money and reduce potential legal liability by skipping Lexipol’s costly service and instead pooling their resources and seeking guidance from Washington state’s attorney general.

“These concerns are not abstract hypotheticals,” the researchers write. “The policy manuals we examined translate into real-life cases of rights abuse, some of which have been deemed unconstitutional by Washington courts.”

In such cases, everyday law enforcement encounters too easily become immigration enforcement cases “because local law enforcement handed off Washington residents to federal immigration authorities in ways that violated their rights.”

Godoy said, “We don’t want people in Washington state to be treated unfairly because of the way they look or the language they speak. It’s wrong.”


For more information, contact Godoy at 206-616-3585 or agodoy@uw.edu.