Enoka Herat battles Trump's assault on immigrants in Washington state


She’s the lead counsel for the police practices and immigration unit of the ACLU of Washington and she serves on the board of OneAmerica, the state’s largest immigrant advocacy organization.

“Washington state has a huge population of foreign-born people, so [Trump’s] rhetoric and actions affect not only those individuals, but also their families and their communities,” said Herat, a University of Washington Law School product, married mother of two, and daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants.

Moreover, she said, Trump’s efforts are emboldening some people in authority to violate the state’s constitution relative to immigrants.

In a wide-ranging interview this month with Cascade Forum, Herat shared insights on the fight against Trump in Washington state. Here are key highlights from the conversation:

Cascade Forum: How are Trump’s policies and rhetoric affecting undocumented people and workers in Washington state?

Enoka Herat (EH): The rhetoric does a lot to create fear, insecurity and instability in immigrant communities. That impacts workers across the state who do not know if they can continue working, even if they have DACA status. For example, if they have a work permit and can work lawfully, because there is so much uncertainty, they are not sure about their work status. This impacts people’s ability to plan and run their businesses because they are not sure if their work permits will expire or will be able to be renewed …

CF: Share some real-life examples of Trump’s policies and rhetoric affecting people in Washington State?

EH: We have seen ICE’s enforcement of immigration policies increase by over 40% in 2017. For example, in Long Beach, Wash., (between late September and early October) there have been six people arrested by ICE. Long Beach is a small community and this makes a huge difference. Again, it does not just impact those individuals who were sent to the immigration detention center and may be awaiting deportation, but it also impacts their families and their communities. Another example is when a police officer called ICE and threatened someone with deportation and said, “Trump is going to take care of this person.” We can see that the rhetoric trickles down even to local law enforcement and people on the ground hear it. It definitely emboldens people to act wrongly and in violation of our state constitution.

In that case, the person who was reported by the police and picked up by ICE was a father of three kids and was married to a U.S. citizen. Now, his wife is trying to support those three kids totally on her own. One of them has a developmental disability … The question is, is this how we want to be using our local resources? Are those the kinds of policies that are helping our residents, or are they hurting them? It’s really heartbreaking!

Another example is someone who has DACA status, but is currently in high school, college, medical or law school with the intention to graduate and get a job, just like anyone else with whom they would graduate. But, because their status is now in question, in a year or two when their status expires, they may not be able to work at all. They have invested the time and our state has invested the resources in them as well by providing public education. It impacts so many people.

CF: At the Flights & Rights community meeting in September, you mentioned one of the goals of the ACLU in protecting the civil rights of undocumented people is to stop state and local institutions from collaborating with ICE. Are there any legal ramifications for public institutions not collaborating with a federal agency?

EH: We would actually argue the opposite, that there are legal ramifications for (cooperating with ICE). For example, we have been reviewing a number of different police departments’ policies, and there seems to be some confusion between police departments whether their officers can collaborate with ICE or not. Can they use police department resources to question someone about their immigration status? That has legal ramifications and can expose a police department to litigation and liability because under the Washington constitution, we have really strong privacy protection. Because immigration is not related to any Washington crime, it is outside the scope of police officers’ work. We have argued and brought lawsuits saying that it is a violation of the state constitution for police officers to question people about their immigration status and to use local resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

So, we do not think that there will be legal ramifications for having policies in line with the Washington state constitution …

CF: For people who are on the fence or lean to the right on DACA, what is your message to them?

EH: Anyone who has DACA status right now has been in the U.S. for at least 10 years. Ten years is a long time to put down roots and really be a part of the fabric of our society in our communities, schools and work places. There are 800,000 people with DACA status across the country, and in Washington state there are 18,000 people. These are people we work with, friends and neighbors who have relied on promises made by the government that they could stay and live normal lives. These are people who have been thoroughly vetted, who don’t have criminal histories or other disqualifications. It seems like an act of cruelty to pull the rug out from under them. So many undocumented people have made such huge contributions to our state and our country. We should consider pushing for immigration reform that is going to give people a path to lawful status. We want people to come out of the shadows; we want people to pay taxes and contribute in a way that is recognized and valued in general. If we pull the rug out from under them, we are asking them to go back in the shadows.