It was what one immigrant advocate called a “nightmare scenario” — one many law-enforcement officials have long said they seek to avoid.
Early Thursday in Tukwila, a Honduran man who called police for help was turned in by officers to immigration authorities. This, said OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz, sent the message: It’s not safe to call to police.
Stolz was one of many people Friday trying to figure out exactly what happened — including officials with the Police Department that turned the man in. And, the Honduran immigrant’s lawyer is arguing the arrest was illegal.
Wilson Rodriguez Macarreno, 32, came to the U.S. illegally from Honduras around 2004, said his lawyer, Luis Cortes. Rodriguez Macarreno was escaping rampant gang violence: His brother had been shot dead and a friend cut into pieces, according to Cortes.
In the U.S., Macarreno worked as a carpenter, became a leader in his church and started a family. His three children — 3-year-old twins and a 1-year-old — are U.S. citizens, Cortes said. He has no criminal record, the lawyer said.
In part because of his children, Rodriguez Macarreno was nervous when, around 5:30 a.m. Thursday, he saw someone trying to break into his car, Cortes said. A few months ago, someone had tried to break into his home.
So Rodriguez Macarreno called the police. Officers found a man who they determined to be trespassing, but they didn’t have probable cause to arrest him, according to Officer Victor Masters of the Tukwila Police Department. So they let him go.
The officers, however, held onto Rodriguez Macarreno. They had run him through the federal National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which contains all sorts of information, including any existing warrants.
It is standard procedure for Tukwila police to run victims, witnesses and suspects through NCIC to confirm their identity, Masters said.
This procedure, in itself, is not unusual. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) and King County Sheriff’s Office do the same, according to spokesmen. What they don’t do is act on information in the database from immigration authorities.
“If we find something from ICE in there, we don’t care,” said SPD Detective Patrick Michaud, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
To the fury of officials in President Donald Trump’s administration, who have threatened to withhold federal funds, Seattle and King County have policies restricting cooperation with immigration enforcement.
Tukwila police don’t usually act on ICE information they see in NCIC either, Masters said, nor do they ask about immigration status. But when the officers on the scene radioed in Rodriguez Macarreno’s name to dispatchers, who ran it through NCIC, what popped up looked different.
It was not just a note that ICE “was interested in speaking to the individual,” which is typical, according to Masters, but a warrant from the federal agency.
Masters said the officers called ICE, who requested that they take Rodriguez Macarreno to the agency’s Tukwila office.
“It’s not something we normally do,” Masters said. “The situation overall was very, very unique.” But since ICE’s office was “just down the road,” the Tukwila officers complied.
Cortes, however, said his client overheard the officers, using a speakerphone, offering to drop Rodriguez Macarreno off. “You want us to take him to you?” they asked.
“That would be great,” came the reply from ICE, according to Rodriguez Macarreno’s recounting.
The Tukwila officers handcuffed Rodriguez Macarreno and put him in the car, Cortes said.
“I was kind of appalled,” the lawyer said after hearing the story during a visit to his client in the Northwest Detention Center, where he is now being held.
Cortes said local law-enforcement officers do not have authority to arrest people on behalf of ICE — though they have sometimes done so and been rebuked in court rulings.
What then of the ICE warrant?
ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said she could not, by the end of Friday, provide information about why it was issued or about Rodriguez Macarreno generally.
Cortes said he believed it was for missing an immigration court hearing years ago.
But the lawyer noted that ICE warrants differ from criminal ones in a crucial way: ICE’s “administrative” documents are not signed by a judge. So, he said, “there’s no oversight by a third party” who assesses probable cause.
“I almost hesitate to call them warrants,” added Jorge Barón, executive director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
Haley said there’s no legal requirement for a judge to be involved in order for local law enforcement to honor such warrants.
While not knowing of any case law related specifically to ICE warrants, Barón noted that a range of cases around the country, including one in Los Angeles on Friday, have held that the agency’s “detainers” carry no authority with local officers. Detainers ask that jail inmates be held beyond their release date so ICE officers can pick them up.
Masters said Tukwila police are now talking with ICE to determine what kind of warrant, exactly, ICE had issued in the Rodriguez Macarreno case and whether it is something the department is going to be seeing more of in the future.
He said the department, after this incident, determined that if an ICE warrant appears in future NCIC checks, officers should notify their supervisor, who will take a closer look.
“If it’s administrative in nature, we’re not going to honor it,” Masters said.
Meanwhile, Cortes is trying to figure out a legal strategy for Rodriguez Macarreno. The lawyer said the Honduran immigrant may apply for asylum as well as pursue his freedom on the grounds that his arrest by Tukwila police was improper.
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