Why Passing the Family Unity Act Is a Good Idea for Washington State

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Why Passing the Family Unity Act Is a Good Idea for Washington State

By - March 5, 2015

By Eritrea Habtemariam, Narver Fellow

This is the second post in a series on immigrants in Washington state.

During this year’s legislative session, the Washington state Legislature will join the debate over immigration enforcement by deciding whether to enact the Family Unity Act (HB 1716).

This act would respond to the issue of local police detaining non-citizens for immigration officials after they are due to be released. Between 2012 and 2014, Washington state assisted in the issuance of 10,853 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. The majority of these detainers were imposed on individuals who were either never convicted of a crime or who had merely committed minor offenses such as traffic violations.

This collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and immigration agents from ICE can compromise community safety, use up scarce resources, and interfere with the rights of immigrants in their custody. The Family Unity Act would prohibit local sheriffs and police from using their resources to enforce federal policies.

King County ICE Detainer Costs 1

The Family Unity Act would help our communities and economy by:

  • Reducing costs: Unnecessarily detaining individuals for extended periods of time adds tremendous cost to jails and law enforcement. In 2013, King County stopped honoring federal immigration detainers – saving local jails $1.8 million annually as a result. This proposed legislation would lower detention costs for county and municipal jails throughout the state. 
  • Foster care and parent detainers 1Strengthening families: When a parent is detained or deported, their children are often left to local and state agencies. This brings great volatility into a child’s life and adds costs to over-strained social services. Since 2009, an estimated 5,100 children have entered the foster care system in the United States as a direct result of one or both of their parents being detained – and, in some cases, deported – by ICE. The Family Unity Act would prevent families from being broken apart, increasing domestic and financial stability.
  • Helping take steps to improve trust in law enforcement: Strong communities are built upon trust in public safety officers. But the involvement of local police in immigration enforcement has increased fears in immigrant communities. As a result, many immigrants are less likely to contact the police if they have witnessed or are a victim of a crime because they’re afraid law enforcement will inquire about their or a family member’s immigration status. This reduced trust in police affects the safety and well-being of all Washingtonians.
  • Unifying state policy: Nineteen counties in Washington state limit or no longer comply with ICE detainer requests. By passing the Family Unity Act, our state will have a single policy and draw a clear line between the role of law enforcement and federal immigration agents.

Immigrants are an integral part of Washington state, adding to its cultural richness and economic vibrancy. By passing the Family Unity Act, legislators will ensure that local law enforcement agencies are dedicated to their primary duties of serving and protecting the public instead of facilitating immigration enforcement. Ultimately, this will make Washington state safer and bring greater security and stability to the immigrant members of our communities.

For more information on the economic contributions of immigrants in our state, read the first post in this series.

The Budget & Policy Center staff would like to thank Toby Guevin, Associate Director of Civic Engagement with OneAmerica, and Ann Benson, Directing Attorney with the Washington Defender Association (WDA) Immigration Project, for their contributions to this post.