A state law restricts law-enforcement access to City Light’s customer records, the utility said.
Seattle City Light has asked federal immigration officials to explain what’s behind an administrative subpoena seeking information about an electric customer.
Rather than turn over customer information in a Feb. 14 letter replying to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) subpoena, City Light pointed to a Washington law restricting access to its records.
A law-enforcement authority seeking utility records must state in writing that it suspects the customer has committed a crime and that it has a reasonable belief the records could help determine whether its suspicion is true, the law says.
The letter from City Light’s legal-affairs adviser also requested written confirmation from ICE that the information sought would be “relevant or material to an ongoing investigation” under federal laws against smuggling controlled substances into the U.S.
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Crosscut first reported on the Jan. 31 subpoena and City Light’s reply.
The utility’s reply came only a week after Mayor Jenny Durkan set out new citywide protocols for requests from immigration authorities, promising that Seattle would remain a “welcoming city for all residents, including immigrant and refugee residents.”
The exchange also followed recent outrage over the state Department of Licensing’s releasing personal information to ICE — the agency charged with carrying out President Donald Trump’s ramped-up immigration-enforcement policies.
In her Feb. 6 directive, Durkan ordered the city’s department directors to refer all ICE requests to her office for review, including those for access to city buildings and requests for information about city residents.
“Recent actions by federal authorities, particularly by ICE, undermine the trust and confidence essential to law enforcement. Many residents, regardless of their immigration status, may be unwilling to report crimes or participate in investigations because of concerns about potential impacts on others in their families or communities,” the mayor wrote.
“Recent reports regarding lapses by government, including the Washington State Department of Licensing, show we must have robust protocols for all city departments.”
Scott Thomsen, a City Light spokesman, said the utility adhered to Durkan’s new protocols, conferring with the mayor’s office before replying to ICE.
The utility previously has granted requests for customer information from law-enforcement officials, but those were judicial warrants or subpoenas, Thomsen said.
The administrative warrants and subpoenas that ICE issues under its own authority are different because they aren’t signed by a judge, the City Light spokesman said.
Thomsen said he couldn’t immediately share a copy of the subpoena. He said it sought customer information associated with a particular address.
ICE has yet to reply to City Light’s letter, Thomsen said. The agency could provide the utility with more information or ask a federal judge to intervene, he said. Lori Haley, an ICE spokeswoman, declined to comment Thursday “due to an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Stephanie Formas, a spokeswoman for Durkan, said the mayor was working on the immigration-enforcement issue before ICE issued the subpoena to City Light.
The timing meant Durkan’s protocols were immediately relevant, Formas said.
In her Feb. 6 directive, the mayor said the protocols would work in conjunction with existing Seattle laws and policies. An ordinance passed in 2003 says city employees are prohibited from asking about immigration status, except for police officers who have a reasonable suspicion that a person has been previously deported, is in the U.S. again and is committing or has committed a felony.
Durkan’s directive also called for an assessment of what information is collected by the city and how city policies and practices interact with immigration enforcement.
In a Feb. 6 online post, Durkan and Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González touted a recent, city-hosted workshop where 491 legal permanent residents received citizenship assistance and 535 people received immigration-law consultations.
“The changing direction of ICE enforcement is designed to distract and drain resources from real public-safety threats with an explicit outcome of causing widespread fear and uncertainty for immigrants in their daily lives,” they wrote.
“Let’s be clear: we won’t be bullied and we stand with our immigrant communities.”