Exclusive: Inside controversial ICE arrests in Kitsap County

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – As part of a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced roughly 1,300 arrests across the country last week, including 60 in Washington state.

The local arrests sparked outrage from immigrant rights groups, who claimed racial profiling played a role in who was targeted. ICE, however, said its enforcements are aimed at immigrants with criminal convictions, or prior removals from the country.

Nathalie Asher, ICE’s field office director for Enforcement and Removal Operations in the Pacific Northwest, said 33 of those arrested in Washington last week have prior criminal convictions. She blamed sanctuary policies for the need to go find those offenders in local communities, rather than take them into custody upon release from local jails.

“Washington state’s misguided sanctuary law has not made our communities safer,” she said. “In fact, sanctuary law has made our communities less safe, returning dangerous criminals to the street while tying the hands of local law enforcement officers who work to keep offenders off the streets.”

In recent weeks, ICE has stepped up efforts to combat what it sees as misleading narratives about the work its agents are doing. That effort included inviting local reporters to tour the Northwest ICE Processing Center (previously called the Northwest Detention Center) in Tacoma on September 10 – a tour Q13 News attended along with more than a dozen news agencies.

In addition, ICE allowed Q13 to ride along with agents as they carried out enforcement actions in Kitsap County last week. Q13 was present for a total of four arrests at two locations in Port Orchard – including one offender with multiple criminal convictions, a man with three prior voluntary deportations, and two people who had no prior contact with the criminal justice system or ICE, but who admitted to being in the country illegally. ICE called those two arrests “incidental.”

In a third contact, ICE surrounded a truck at a Port Orchard Shell station, only to find out the person they were looking for was not inside. Instead, the occupants recorded the encounter on cell phone video, and one detailed his experience in a post that has since been shared 2,300 times on Facebook.

Miguel Francisco, who said he is a U.S. citizen, called the contact “racial profiling” and the “worst experience in my life.” He added that he was humiliated by the presence of news cameras.

“I was born in this country and didn’t realize how bad the system really is, laws were definitely broken, yet I’m sure the president stands right behind these so called ‘law enforcement,’” he wrote.

Counter to the claim of racial profiling, ICE said it contacted the truck after it left a nearby house where a wanted suspect was believed to have been. Q13 News did hear agents radio a description of the truck as it allegedly left the residence, but did not see the truck leave the home first-hand.

As news spread of the ICE arrests and contacts in Port Orchard, immigrant rights groups spoke out.

“While using the excuse of looking for a particular person(s) who was not present, we have confirmed that ICE made at least four collateral arrests in this sweep,” the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network wrote in a press release. “We are reaching out to family members and offering support.”