The Trump administration’s latest threat against sanctuary jurisdictions draws a sharp retort from Seattle and King County. “This is about bullying and intimidation,” Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Joe McDermott said.
The Trump administration fired another salvo against so-called sanctuary jurisdictions Wednesday by sending letters to 29 cities, counties and states — including Seattle and King County — threatening to rescind criminal-justice grants.
Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess and Metropolitan King County Council Chairman Joe McDermott responded sharply, both denying the letters’ assertion that they might be violating federal law.
“This is about bullying and intimidation,” said McDermott, who noted that he learned of the letter purportedly sent to him when reporters started calling. It hadn’t arrived by late Wednesday, he said.
Burgess got his missive from the Department of Justice (DOJ), but he said “nothing in the letter will impact the way the city does business.”
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That may be in part because of court cases on this issue. On the same day the letters went out, a federal judge ruled the Trump administration cannot withhold public-safety funding from Philadelphia because of its protections for immigrants.
And Oct. 19, a federal judge in Seattle declined to dismiss the city’s lawsuit against President Donald Trump over earlier threats to withhold funding from sanctuary cities. The case is ongoing.
The DOJ announced the letters in a news release, accompanied by a quote from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law.”
There is no single definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction, but the term generally applies to those with policies that limit or restrict local officials from participating in immigration enforcement.
The DOJ tailored its letters for each jurisdiction, citing policies the feds believe violate a federal law known as 8 U.S. Code Section 1373. That law prohibits local entities from restricting communication with immigration officials.
The letter to Seattle cited the city’s 2003 law forbidding local officials from asking about a person’s immigration status. The one to King County referenced a similar policy, as well as one prohibiting the county from honoring detainers by immigration officials placed on people held in the county jail.
Jurisdictions have until Dec. 8 to say whether their policies violate federal law. At risk is federal funding known as the Byrne Grant. It provides $675,000 to the region, about $255,000 of which goes to Seattle for three crime-prevention officers, according to Burgess.
“I think they’re confused and ideologically driven,” he said of federal officials. Neither he nor Ian Warner, the mayor’s legal counsel, wanted to get into specifics of why the city’s policies abided by federal law, saying that was a matter for the court case.
More generally, Burgess said, “We’re not doing anything to interfere with federal immigration law.”
Immigrant advocates have previously asserted that, while federal law bars local authorities from withholding information from the feds, nothing requires them to gather that information in the first place.
“We will be preparing a forceful and direct response,” added McDermott, saying he had contacted King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Executive Dow Constantine.
Burgess, who remains in office until Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan takes over Nov. 28, said he will know more after a conference call Thursday with other letter recipients.
Durkan, in a statement, said: “Seattle is and will continue to be a sanctuary city, and our city will fight Trump every step of the way. “I’ll say it again,” the former U.S. attorney continued, echoing a remark she made at her election-night party: Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, keep your hands off Seattle.”
The Justice Department sent out similar letters to nine jurisdictions in April and all replied that they were complying with federal law, according to McClatchy news service.