Mayor Ed Murray has said hes willing to lose every single penny in federal funding to remain a sanctuary city.
Mayor Ed Murray has said he's "willing to lose every single penny" in federal funding to remain a sanctuary city. City of Seattle

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced today that they are suing President Donald Trump's administration over its threats to strip federal funding from so-called "sanctuary cities."

This week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions blasted "sanctuary" cities and counties that don't respond to federal detainer requests, which ask local authorities to hold suspects until immigration officials can attempt to deport them. Sessions also warned that localities would lose Justice Department grants if they failed to comply with US Code 1373, a law that prohibits local governments from blocking communications with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

As they announced the federal lawsuit today, Murray and Holmes zeroed-in on Sessions' claims that cities and counties who label themselves "sanctuaries" for undocumented immigrants make the country less safe. In fact, Seattle officials argue, the opposite is true.

"It’s when you marginalize people, drive them away from city services, make them fearful of the police, push them underground that these communities become unsafe," Murray said, "and the city of Seattle becomes unsafe."

Murray cited media reports from other cities showing diminished rates of domestic violence and rape reporting to police due to fear of deportation, but said he did not have data for the city of Seattle on hand.

"We know, anecdotally, just from what people themselves have told us, that they don't want to come forward because they're afraid, and they know other people in the community who won't come forward and report crimes because of fear," Seattle Deputy Chief of Police Carmen Best told The Stranger after the press conference.

Best said that an estimated 150,000 undocumented people live in the Seattle area. "That's 150,000 witnesses, victims, or others that we need to be in contact with," she said.

There is no standard definition of a "sanctuary" jurisdiction and even self-identified sanctuary cities like Seattle cannot stop the feds from arresting immigrants. City of Seattle policy does, however, prevent police from asking about a person's immigration status, and King County, which operates local jails, does not adhere to federal detainer requests from ICE. As we reported here, the Department of Homeland Security has called out King County for not abiding by these detainer requests; local officials say they don't have to follow detainer requests without a court order.

Earlier this year, President Trump signed an executive order that orders Homeland Security to "authorize" state and local law enforcement to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants. The same executive order dictates that "sanctuary jurisdictions" that don't comply with US Code 1373 will be stripped of federal grant funding. Seattle officials say they do adhere to 1373, and no local policy prevents government officials from communicating with ICE.

"We should not allow the federal government to use local police and our agencies to act as a federal militia," Seattle City Council member Debora Juarez said today, "and that’s exactly what they’re doing."

In the case, Seattle will make two primary arguments: First, that forcing local governments to enforce federal law is unconstitutional. Second, that Seattle's policies do not violate federal law because they do not prohibit any information sharing with the federal government, but instead "limit the collection of information."

Seattle is on track to receive $2.6 million in Justice Department grants that will support programs like domestic violence prevention, community policing, body cams, detecting internet crimes against children, and youth violence prevention in 2017. City officials also anticipate receiving $55 million in federal funds for the city's operating expenses and $99 million for capital projects this year.

Murray pledged last month during his State of the City address to sue the Trump administration if it did not hand over documents related to its planned crackdown on sanctuary cities, but later put that suit on hold.