Elected officials from Seattle and King County responded Friday to a U.S. Department of Justice letter threatening to rescind a federal grant if local laws ran afoul of a federal immigration law.
Seattle and King County officials blasted the Trump administration Friday for going after so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, calling President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) “bullies.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, City Attorney Pete Holmes, Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González and Metropolitan King County Council President Joe McDermott took turns calling out the DOJ and the Trump administration at a news conference. They highlighted the city’s and county’s response to a DOJ threat to end criminal-justice grants to so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.
“We’re here to say they’re wrong,” Durkan said, who was flanked by Holmes, McDermott, González and a host of others at El Centro De La Raza in Seattle. “Seattle will not be bullied.”
There isn’t a single definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction, but generally it describes governments and agencies with policies limiting or restricting local officials from participating in immigration enforcement.
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Durkan also announced the city is awarding $150,000 across seven agencies — 21 Progress, Entre Hermanos, El Centro de la Raza, Inter-Community Peace and Justice Center, Northwest Immigration Rights Project, OneAmerica and the Korean Community Service Center — that support immigrant communities. The money is for the organizations to spend on supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, a program that the Trump administration has targeted for elimination next year.
Last month, the DOJ sent a letter to 29 cities, counties and states saying they might have laws that violate a federal one prohibiting local municipalities and governments from restricting information-sharing with immigration officials.
The DOJ gave the cities, counties and states until Friday to respond. If the entities couldn’t prove their laws didn’t violate federal law, the DOJ threatened to end federal funding known as Byrne grants. Seattle uses the grants to fund three crime-prevention officers, while King County uses them to help former inmates re-enter the community and not reoffend.
McDermott dismissed the November letter and said King County would remain open to immigrants and refugees.
“This is not a serious attempt to have a policy conversation, a discussion about policy with Seattle and King County,” he said. “We in Seattle and King County will not allow fearmongering to overtake basic civil rights and the rule of law. We are a welcoming community and will continue to be so.”
González talked about her parents who came to the United States as undocumented immigrants seeking a better life for them and their future children. She said the federal government’s targeting of sanctuary jurisdictions is driven by racism.
“This bullying tactic is fueled by his (Trump’s) hate and racism and is targeting, intentional targeting, communities of color, including immigrants and refugees,” she said.
The county was asked to determine if three of its so-called sanctuary laws or policies violated 8 U.S. Code Section 1373, which prohibits local governments from restricting communication with immigration officials. Seattle was questioned about two of its laws or policies.
Seattle and King County both responded Friday and refuted each point raised by the federal agency. A letter signed by McDermott, King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg says all of King County’s “laws, policies and practices” comply with federal law.
“Just as we will always follow the law, King County will always be a safe and welcoming place for all people,” the three wrote.
In Seattle’s response letter, signed by Durkan and Holmes, they claim to be in compliance and that the Justice Department can’t withhold the Byrne grant.
“As courts have held, the federal government does not, and could not, require cities like Seattle to comply with Section 1373 as a condition of receiving funding under the Byrne JAG grant program,” they wrote.
In October, a federal judge in Seattle declined to dismiss the city’s lawsuit against Trump regarding prior threats to withhold funding from sanctuary cities. That lawsuit and efforts to protect Seattle from federal intervention have Holmes’ attention, he said in an interview after the news conference.