Yakima Immigration Case Could Have National Implications

Oct 3, 2017

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently had a four-day-long operation called “Safe Cities.” The national action resulted in over 450 undocumented immigrants detained. Thirty-three arrests took place in Seattle.

In Yakima, an individual but more complicated immigration detention case is ongoing. It started in May and continues with potential for national implications.

What began as one local case is now three distinct ones.

It started with a domestic violence charge against Antonio Sanchez Ochoa. He was held at Yakima’s county jail beginning in May with bail set at $50,000. But, the case becomes more complicated because of his status as an undocumented immigrant.

The bail company wouldn’t accept money because of something called an administrative warrant that had been placed on him by ICE.

This is where it gets more complicated.

An administrative warrant is what’s called an I-200. The warrant is submitted by an ICE officer with “probable cause” that an inmate is undocumented. A detainer request is a different immigration form from ICE asking local law enforcement to hold a specific individual. Law enforcement has the choice to honor or ignore both administrative warrants and detainer requests. Sanctuary cities like Seattle and Portland often choose not to honor either administrative warrants or detainer requests.

In this case, the Yakima Department of Corrections honored the warrant and held Sanchez Ochoa for additional time.

In July, the second case developed. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services filed with the court to represent Sanchez Ochoa. The non-profit legal advocacy groups argued that Yakima County and the Department of Corrections violated their client’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure by extending his detention. The groups filed a temporary restraining order to stop Yakima County from holding their client.

U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza granted that temporary restraining order against the Yakima Department of Corrections. At that point, Sanchez Ochoa was technically free to go, but he was then immediately detained by ICE and transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

Then, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a briefing, meaning that while they’re not a formal party in the case, they are interested in the eventual outcome.

Bernardo Rafael Cruz from Columbia Legal Services is representing Sanchez Ochoa. He explains why he thinks this case is so important.

“I think it’s very powerful as well if in the end, a federal judge found that it’s likely that Yakima County was violating our client’s constitutional rights,” Cruz said. “I think it’s telling that the federal government is disagreeing with that analysis and actually arguing that that type of action does not violate our client’s rights.”

The third and final case for Sanchez Ochoa is now one of deportation. In early September he was transferred to a processing center in New Mexico without warning to his lawyers. He is now in deportation hearings and back at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Sanchez Ochoa could be returned to his native country of Mexico as early as this week.

The federal court case deciding whether local law enforcement has jurisdiction to hold undocumented immigrants for federal agencies will be heard early next year by the 9th Circuit, which includes Washington state.

This year has been a big one for immigration policy with discussions on loss of funding for sanctuary cities, former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s contempt conviction and then presidential pardon, the end of the federal DACA program, and a recent lawsuit by the Washington state attorney general’s office against GEO, the private prison operator of the Northwest Detention Center for underpaying people who perform work while detained.

Copyright 2017 Northwest Public Radio