Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the U.S. Department of Justice sent Seattle, King County and 29 other cities, counties and states a letter warning them to comply with federal immigration statutes.
The letter, sent to Seattle mayor Tim Burgess and King County Council President Joe McDermott, urges the city and county to review certain policies which the Justice Department believes protects illegal immigrants outside the scope of United States Code.
In the letter, acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson makes clear that both the city and county could lose federal grants if they do not comply.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the letter started from a false premise and only got worse.
"First off, we do follow federal law," he said at a press conference. "We meet requirements. Despite [President Donald Trump's] fondness for dictators around the world, we do follow federal laws."
This is the latest move in a long-promised effort by Trump to come down on so-called "sanctuary cities" which do not seek out people who have not come to this country through formal channels.
McDermott claimed the federal government was being hypocritical.
"A press release and letter posted online won’t push King County to start violating the civil liberties of our residents," he said. "It would be nice if Attorney General Sessions would decide to recall his oath of office to uphold our Constitution and stop these misinformation and intimidation tactics – there’s enough fake news coming from Russia as it is. King County is a welcoming, safe place for all and will continue to be so in spite of this newest attempt to create confusion and fear in our communities."
The letters focus on law enforcement guidelines which have stood in the city and county for more than a decade.
The King County Sheriff's Office has a rule not to initiate questioning based on a person's immigration status, along with not taking action on Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. The latter refers to jail authorities ignoring requests from immigration agencies to detain people past their release date.
The DOJ letter stated that these may violate U.S. Code Section 1373 dealing with interaction between government agencies.
Interim Mayor Burgess was frustrated by the move.
"We adopted that law so that no one would fear reporting a crime or approaching a police officer to request help, especially victims of domestic violence," Burgess said in a release. "It’s ironic that a president who says he wants to reduce crime and help crime victims works to remove funding from programs that do exactly that. Seattle is a welcoming city. We value the contributions made by the neighbors who live among us. We are proud of their presence"
The Seattle Police Department were given a joint 2016 Byrne JAG grant for $673,166 with King County. One of the requirements for the grant is to abide by U.S.C. 1373.
Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan threatened to fight back.
"This action is both immoral and illegal. It threatens the safety not just of our immigrant families but of all of Seattle which relies on the police resources they seek to cut." She said. "Unfortunately for the Trump administration, multiple federal judges have ruled that the Department of Justice cannot withholding federal law enforcement aid to sanctuary cities. Seattle is and will continue to be a Sanctuary City, and our City will fight Trump every step of the way against these illegal attempts to withhold funds. I'll say it again: Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump keep your hands off Seattle."