Thurston County must reject bid for DOJ grant

The Thurston County Courthouse complex is pictured in this Olympian file photo.
The Thurston County Courthouse complex is pictured in this Olympian file photo. Staff file, 2017

Thurston County commissioners must reject a county staff application for a $25,000 federal grant intended to improve criminal-justice information-sharing by local agencies.

The goal of the so-called “Byrne grant” is good. But the grant application language carries a hidden agenda on immigration.

If accepted, this could leave the county vulnerable to federal demands on immigration that are poison to our county’s practice and policies.

Our police and jails should be used to hold dangerous felons and other criminals who pose a definable risk to the public – and not as a holding cell for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as they round up nonviolent suspects for deportation. Local police should not be coerced to share information with ICE agents.

But language built into the application by the Department of Justice includes a requirement that the county prosecutor certify its cooperation with federal immigration agents in ways that are new.

The language would broaden how much help local police and deputies give to federal agents – who now must get a signed order from federal magistrates before the local jail will hold a suspected immigration violator, except if the person is already charged or suspected in other crimes.

Similar cooperation language in grants issued by DOJ for 2017 have been blocked in federal court, but those injunctions could be lifted by higher courts.

That is why Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim and his Democratic challenger, Victor Minjares, are right to oppose the grant at this point. Both are right it could open the door to unwanted results, a worry Minjares seems to have noticed first.

Tunheim told The Olympian late Friday that he would ask commissioners next week to reject the grant request; it was to return before them for action on next Tuesday. Until Tunheim says he intervened, the grant application had been scheduled for approval by commissioners on Sept. 25.

To their credit, Thurston County administrators took Tunheim’s advice by removing the application from the commissioners’ agenda until the prosecutor could ask his chief civil deputy prosecutor, Elizabeth Petrich, to do additional review.

Tunheim said he intervened because he was asked to sign certification language in the 2018 application that was different from wording in the 2017 grant, and the new wording concerned him.

Late on Friday afternoon Tunheim went a big step further. He said he’ll ask commissioners to reject the entire grant application for this year.

As it turns out, Thurston County already has an ordinance in the books barring the jail from holding or detaining immigrants based solely on a request from ICE – unless there is a signed order from a federal magistrate.

That ordinance put into law an ongoing local policy based on federal court rulings. But it wasn’t adopted by the commissioners until November 2016 — after President Trump was elected.

Even so, killing the grant request on Tuesday is a smart move that can nip other trouble in the bud.