SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has said he won’t follow a new state law that prohibits local officials from helping federal agents enforce some immigration laws.
Knezovich, a Republican, also contended Monday that Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee should be arrested for obstruction of justice after signing the law last month.
The Spokesman-Review reported that the law was passed by the Legislature this year on a mostly partisan vote and was designed partly to support the role of immigrants in the state’s economy.
But Knezovich said the new law sets up Washington as a “sanctuary state” and would prevent his officers from working with federal officials in preventing crime committed by people in the country illegally. His declaration came after he made similar comments to Fox News last week.
The law gave immigrants certain employment rights regardless of citizenship status. It also directed state law enforcement not to assist in enforcement of federal registration programs that target residents based on immigration or citizenship status as well as race, religion or nationality.
“The Legislature finds that it is not the primary purpose of state and local law enforcement agencies .to enforce civil federal immigration law,” the new law said.
A person cannot be arrested or detained solely for determining their immigration status or held on a civil immigration warrant, the new law said.
Inslee, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said when he signed the law in late May that it was meant to eliminate “mean-spirited policies” that break up families and hurt community safety.
“We will not be complicit in the Trump administration’s depraved efforts to break up hard-working immigrant and refugee families,” Inslee said at the time.
Knezovich said Democratic anger with President Trump drove lawmakers to pass it. Federal immigration law is the same as it was under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Knezovich said.
“Then Trump was elected. It’s their hatred for one guy,” Knezovich said.
Spokane County deputies will continue to contact federal officials with questions about suspects’ immigration status, he said.
While Knezovich has said Inslee should be charged with obstruction of justice for signing the law, he hasn’t provided details over how that should happen.
When informed of the sheriff’s comment, Inslee said through a spokeswoman: “I’m going to be in Spokane on Friday, and I fully expect to return to Western Washington after my visit.”
On part of that visit, Inslee and Knezovich will actually be together at an event to discuss mental health policy.
Asked if he planned to arrest Inslee for obstruction of justice at that meeting, Knezovich replied: “I doubt it.”