OLYMPIA – Undocumented immigrants in Washington state may no longer need to fear unexpected arrests thanks to the protection that legislation currently under consideration in Washington state promises to provide them.
House Bill 2567, and its companion Senate Bill 6522, would prohibit civil arrests without a court order or arrest warrant within one mile of a court facility.
“For me, as a refugee, it took me a while to overcome my fear for police,” said Rep. My-Linh Thai, D-Bellevue, the House bill’s primary sponsor. “It took me a while to overcome my fear for the … judicial system.”
“I overcame my fear and my mistrust because I believe … that everybody deserves to have access to justice,” Thai said.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, “over the past two years, there have been more than 200 documented civil arrests at courthouses in over 18 counties across the state.”
“The rise in immigration enforcement in Washington courthouses has a direct chilling effect on immigrant crime victims who would otherwise turn to the courts for protection,” said Alex Kory, a crime victims attorney with the Northwest Justice Project.
“When victims are scared to seek protection, crimes go unchecked,” Kory said.
At an earlier hearing, a man named Carlos shared his story about how he was arrested two years ago while renewing his license plates.
“A lot of folks are fearful of getting their families separated, like it happened to me,” Carlos said through a translator. “My family … are too afraid to go to court. They have to choose between addressing their court issues or being arrested by immigration.”
Opponents pushed back, citing the constraints the proposed law would put on judicial officers and law enforcement.
“We think that the definition of civil arrest does, in fact, impede our ability to enforce simple things like traffic laws,” said James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
“The intent of this bill, as I understand it, is to make sure that people feel safe when they go to court,” said Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, who spoke in opposition to the proposal at an earlier debate. “It seeks to do that by making a one-mile radius surround every courthouse in the state of Washington a place in which crime can flourish. And that doesn’t make sense to me.”
The bill would only apply to arrests made for the violation of civil law and “excludes arrest for alleged criminal law violations, or arrest for contempt of court,” according to the substitute Senate bill report.
HB 2567 was passed by the House Monday, Feb. 17 with 55 yeas and 43 nays. It was heard by the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday, Feb. 25 and is scheduled for an executive session, which is when committee members vote to move it forward, on Thursday, Feb. 27.
Leona Vaughn is a reporter with the WNPA News Service.