The King County Sheriff’s Office provided information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as did the jail, despite county code prohibiting them from doing so.
The revelation came following a King County Auditor’s report that was released July 9 and discussed at a Government Oversight and Accountability Committee meeting. The audit found that between March 2018 and April 2019, 15 accounts associated with ICE had accessed the county’s jail information system more than 1,000 times. ICE agents were able to find addresses, photos, physical descriptions and citizenship statuses through the county’s system.
In addition to database access, Sheriff’s Office employees provided information and unredacted case files to ICE agents 25 times in violation of county code. The King County Council passed an ordinance last year that prohibited county agencies from working with ICE without a criminal warrant.
The jail’s inmate database system was created in 2004 and has three tiers: one for the public, one for law enforcement and one for the courts. When it was created, ICE was considered a law enforcement agency because it enforces both criminal and civil law. This allowed agents to set up law enforcement accounts and gain access to greater amounts of information than the public, including personal identifiable information.
The county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention additionally did not properly notify inmates and detainees when ICE requested detainers for them. County code says the Sheriff’s Office should not honor non-criminal ICE detainers, where the agency requests local law enforcement hold inmates for immigration violations or other civil offenses.
The jail complied with this by not honoring ICE detainers. However, around half the time staff did not inform detainees that ICE was interested in them and often did not provide copies of requests from the federal agency.
“Without notice or documentation, people may be unaware that they are being pursued by immigration agents,” said Megan Ko, county management auditor. “And should they decide to pursue legal aid [they] would have less information to support their case.”
County code further prohibits the collection of citizenship information or a person’s country of birth without “pressing need” when people are being booked. Until June 4 of this year, the jail routinely collected this information.
Five days after receiving notice from the county auditor’s office that ICE was using the jail inmate lookup system to access inmates information, the jail asked the county’s IT department to deactivate all ICE accounts.
Ko said part of the reason the agencies, Sheriff’s Office and jail continued to provide ICE with information was a lack of training deadlines. The county’s department of Equity and Social Justice was tasked with training public agencies on how to implement an ordinance prohibiting them from working with ICE. But when this was passed in 2018, no deadlines in place to train the Sheriff’s Office or jail staff, Ko said. Other agencies, including Public Health, were trained.
Principal management auditor Laina Poon said the county also doesn’t know what personal information it holds, making it impossible to ensure such data is protected. It also increases vulnerability to data breaches that pose a privacy risk to residents. Poon recommended the county work with stakeholders to implement a countywide privacy program and take inventory of what information it holds. Agencies should also have the ability to purge sensitive personal information.
Seattle has prohibited its agencies from working with ICE since early 2017 when it passed a “Welcoming City” resolution.
More recently, King County has tried to prevent ICE from using Boeing Field for deportation flights. It was found that ICE had used the field to deport roughly 34,400 people over the past eight years. That report was created by reviewing more than 1.7 million documents obtained by the University of Washington between 2010 and 2018.