NEW REPORT: Impact of Secure Communities on Latinos and Local Law Enforcement in Eastern Washington

Madelyn Peterson, Daniel Merritt, Spencer May

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How has the immigration enforcement program Secure Communities impacted Latino communities in Central and Eastern Washington State? Secure Communities increases cooperation between local jails and the federal government to identify undocumented immigrants for deportation. Implemented in Yakima, Franklin, Benton and Walla Walla counties in the summer of 2011, Secure Communities has been both supported and opposed by different community groups. This research listens to voices of Latino immigrants and other Latinos as well as public safety officials to assess the impact of Secure Communities in Washington State.

Methods: We interviewed first, second, and third-generation Latino community members, local law enforcement, and local immigration attorneys in all four counties examined. From these interviews, we recorded stories and personal experiences of interactions between local law enforcement and Latino community members, dealings with immigration enforcement, perceptions of the Latino community and law enforcement, and the experience of working in the US as a migrant laborer. We also requested public records and analyzed county data to determine demographics and volume of undocumented residents placed on detainers since 2008.


  • All participant groups had a limited understanding of Secure Communities.
  • Latino community members believe that, under Secure Communities and past immigration policies, local police actively collaborate with immigration agents to detain and deport undocumented residents.
  • Law enforcement agencies in Eastern Washington do not intend to enforce immigration law.
  • Latino residents feel that local officials and law enforcement do not “know” the Latino community and do not take into consideration their views and perceptions.
  • Latinos who have respectful interactions with law enforcement commonly approve of their work.
  • Latino community members infrequently call the police for minor, non-violent crimes but are willing to call the police if they are victim or witness to a crime that endangers one’s personal safety. Language and lack of procedural clarity decrease the likelihood that Latinos will call the police.
  • Secure Communities and past immigration enforcement policy in all four counties have exaggerated undocumented Latinas’ reluctance to contact the police when victim to domestic abuse.
  • ICE’s involvement in local law enforcement procedures increases the feeling of insecurity in the Latino immigrant community. This cooperation limits the public spaces in which undocumented residents feel comfortable or safe; limits Latinos’ willingness/ability to be politically engaged in local politics; and increases the potential for racial profiling by police.


  • Latino leaders and local law enforcement should hold public forums to inform the Latino community about Secure Communities and local law enforcement’s non-involvement in active immigration enforcement.
  • OneAmerica and local law enforcement should hold joint Know-Your-Rights presentations in each county.
  • Local jails should review all ICE detainers and honor only detainers for aggravated felons.
  • Washington State lawmakers should denounce anti-immigrant legislation across the country.
  • Washington State lawmakers should continue allowing Washington residents to apply for driver’s licenses without Social Security numbers.
  • ICE and DHS should explicitly define the terms “criminal alien” and “serious criminal” as indicated in Secure Community policy, excluding misdemeanors and minor infractions from crimes meriting detention.
  • ICE and DHS should enforce prosecutorial discretion in state detention centers and provide training.

Community Partners:  Jazmín Santacruz and Toby Guevin, OneAmerica, WA


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