Seattle, King County push back on DOJ threats

Following a clear threat from the federal Department of Justice to so-called “sanctuary cities,” King County and Seattle officials pushed back on Wednesday afternoon.

A letter from Jon Adler, director of the bureau of justice assistance at the Department of Justice, was sent to members of the King County Council and the City of Seattle leadership which continued to raise concerns that King County violates a part of the U.S. Code relating to communication between federal and local law enforcement regarding immigration.

Additionally, the letter requested documentation regarding the city’s federal grant history and any laws or statutes which might prevent the federal government from performing duties related to immigration status. 

The Department of Justice focused on 23 jurisdictions described as having “sanctuary” policies toward illegal immigrants, including New York, Los Angeles, Denver and King County. The term sanctuary typically is applied to jurisdictions which restrict local law enforcement from sharing immigration status of those in custody with the federal government.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Council Chair Joe McDermott issued a joint statement addressing the claims and tactics.

“The Department of Justice has ramped up its campaign of intimidation, threatening local officials who follow the law and protect local residents,” it reads. “To be clear, we comply with the requirements for federal public safety grants. The Department of Justice’s reckless actions threaten the safety of our communities. Just as we always follow the law, King County will always be a safe, welcoming place for all people.”

The later came hours before a meeting at the White House between President Donald Trump and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, causing some to boycott.

The letter from the department threatens to subpoena the jurisdictions and retract previous federal grant funding from the Byrne JAG subaward (BJA).

“Failure to cooperate with BJA’s… grant monitoring activities may result in sanctions affecting the recipient’s DOJ awards, including but not limited to withholdings and/or other restrictions on the recipient’s access to grant funds; referral to the Office of the Inspector General for audit review; designation of the recipient as a DOJ High Risk grantee; or termination of an award(s),” it reads.

A similar letter was sent last year, and Seattle and King County responded that they were in compliance with federal law. 

Mayor Jenny Durkan also bristled at the new letter and perceived threat.

“As a former U.S. Attorney, I’m prepared for a legal fight with this administration. Let’s be clear: It’s a fight that Donald Trump will lose. With today’s announcement, it appears Seattle has successfully made the case to remain a welcoming city. But the fight to protect our citizens in all of King County continues,” she wrote. “The administration’s latest legal threats do nothing to make our communities safer. We do not seek out a fight, but if necessary, we will see President Trump and Attorney General Sessions in court. We have the law – and justice – on our side.'

Other jurisdictions under scrutiny include the state of Oregon, Sacramento County, California and the state of Illinois, among others.

The White House has expressed disappointment with the decision by mayors to boycott the meeting with Trump.