SEATTLE – Washington State’s effort to stymie immigration enforcement is now making it harder for all police in the state to positively identify criminals and lock them up. Following an executive order from Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, the state’s Department of Licensing no longer quickly confirms identity through Social Security numbers.
Crime fighters are stunned.
“Not running them will inhibit our duty to protect the citizens we serve,” said Myrle Carner of Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound. “I think it’s imperative that this not take place, because it’s bread and butter to law enforcement in the investigative process.”
Washington is one of 12 states that allows illegal immigrants to get a driver’s license. But by law, it must ask for and keep on file an applicant’s Social Security number or other information establishing identity such as a birth certificate or country of origin. Up until now, that information was immediately available in a database to all police, federal, state and local.
In a memo obtained by Fox News, the DOL told law enforcement all inquiries will now be vetted and delayed or denied.
“We will have much longer turnaround times. Even hot requests will go through the new review process, so what used to take minutes may now be hours,” the memo said. “Regular requests could take up to a few days.”
Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, ripped the new policy, saying it will result in some dangerous people set free, some innocent people unnecessarily detained and potentially the issuance of concealed pistol licenses to people who should not have them by law.
“Once again, law enforcement is placed in the middle of the ideological food fight, and we are just trying to do the best job we can,” he wrote to members.
Groups that fight against deporting illegal immigrants, however, support the change.
“There’s been concerns that the Trump Administration wants to try to coerce local law enforcement and state agencies into immigration enforcement, something they’re not there to do,” said Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
Local police say they’re not using the DOL information to arrest illegal immigrants, but they need it to positively identify wanted criminals who often carry no I.D. and give fake names when being questioned. Cops say the best tool to combat that has been to ask the person for the last for digits of his Social Security number. Running that and the name given has immediately told police if the subject is lying or telling the truth.
“Losing that Social Security data, I think, will result in people being released who shouldn’t have been, who were suspects or had criminal warrants,” Strachan said.
The governor’s office declined an interview request, but issued a statement.
“The governor’s office is aware of the concerns from law enforcement and are working with them to determine what other workable options exist for verifying ID,” the statement said.
The statement did not elaborate on possible options, but the DOL said they could include “photos, biometrics, fingerprints and other personal information.” Currently only Illinois and California have similar policies blocking local law enforcement from Social Security numbers.
Running retina scans to establish identity is cost prohibitive. But some departments in California are using mobile fingerprint devices. Bakersfield Police Department used a federal grant to purchase 100 “Blue Check” machines. When officers suspect a subject is lying about his identity, they scan his fingerprint and run it through a Kern County database. It will come back with a match if the person has ever been booked into the Kern County Jail. It will not help identify people fingerprinted outside the county and not every patrol officer is equipped with the device.
Police in Washington State aren’t interested in going down that road. They just want the same cooperation from another state agency that they’ve always had.