Bill would protect immigrants from civil arrests at courthouses

OLYMPIA — Undocumented immigrants in Washington state may no longer need to fear unexpected arrests thanks to the protection that legislation currently under consideration promises to provide them.

House Bill 2567, which passed the House Feb.17 with 55 yeas and 43 nays and was passed by the Senate Committee on Law & Justice on Thursday, would prohibit civil arrests without a court order or arrest warrant within one mile of a court facility.

Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat who represents Legislative District 24, was one of two Democrats who opposed the bill in the House, while fellow District 24 legislator Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, voted in favor of it.

“I was concerned this bill would also limit local law enforcement from making arrests on county courthouse property,” Chapman said in an email on Friday.

“It also prohibits judges and prosecutors from being allowed to do their job and is somewhat unconstitutional in that regard. The bill did not apply only to ICE but local law enforcement and court officials also.”

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.

“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.

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 apply only 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.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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