On March 27, US attorney general Jeff Sessions issued a new warning to so-called "sanctuary jurisdictions." He blasted cities, states, and counties that do not respond to federal detainer requests—non-warrant requests from immigration officials that ask local law enforcement and jails to hold suspects for an additional 48 hours to allow immigration officials to swoop in and attempt to deport them—and he threatened a loss of Department of Justice grants if sanctuary jurisdictions fail to comply with federal law.
But Sessions's threat was carefully worded. While the Department of Homeland Security has called out King County for not abiding by these federal detainer requests, and while the City of Seattle maintains a policy that prevents city employees, including police, from asking about a person's immigration status, local officials say that they do follow federal law and won't be bullied by Sessions's rhetoric.
In his announcement, Sessions declared that his Department of Justice will deny grants to jurisdictions that don't comply with USC 1373, a policy that says local governments can't block information sharing about a person's immigration status between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other government entities or officials. The attorney general's new policy follows an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in January that directs the secretary of Homeland Security to "authorize" local law enforcement to help with immigration raids.
But sanctuary city policies like Seattle's, and the refusal of many jurisdictions to entertain administrative detainer requests from ICE, are separate issues from the code Sessions cited. Local officials say they're not stopping anyone from communicating with ICE. At the same time, they say they don't have to adhere to ICE's detainer requests unless compelled by a court order.
"We're not going to imprison people based on executive fiat, even if that executive is the president of the United States," King County executive Dow Constantine told The Stranger.
Seattle mayor Ed Murray issued a similar response. "If Attorney General Sessions is so concerned about Seattle's safety," Murray said, "pulling law-enforcement dollars from cities nationwide is the height of hypocrisy and makes us less safe. Research shows cities with larger foreign-born populations experience less violent crime."
In 2016, the Department of Justice awarded the Seattle Police Department $673,166 for community policing, equipment, and overtime. The city also distributed $600,000 from a different Department of Justice grant to the Seattle Fire Department and $120,000 for human services work.
On the state level, Washington governor Jay Inslee recently signed an executive order on immigration that would prevent state resources from being used in immigration raids. But a spokesperson for the governor insisted that all policies and practices the state has adopted are, and will continue to be, consistent with federal law.
"The governor has been clear that Washington will continue to be a place where all are welcome despite what country they come from, language they speak, or religion they practice," spokesperson Tara Lee said.
King County prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg also warned against the Trump administration threatening to withhold federal funds as sanctions for local immigration policy. If Sessions tried to block federal funds unrelated to immigration, Satterberg said, he might have a lawsuit on his hands.
"For instance, if the Trump administration tried to withhold federal transportation money as a sanction for a local immigration policy, the local government would have a good argument in court to challenge that action," Satterberg wrote in an e-mail.
Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes dismissed Sessions's words as deflection from a bad week for the Trump administration, but he did add a vague hint that Seattleites can expect more anti-Trump resistance from their local government.
"Seattle should know that my office and the mayor's office have been working ever since President Trump's 'sanctuary cities' order was signed to explore all avenues to protect Seattle's interests, and most of all its values," Holmes said in a statement. "The city will not be bullied into abandoning its principles. Stay tuned."