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Seattle sues Trump administration over threat to 'sanctuary cities'

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announces a lawsuit against the Trump administration on March 29, 2017.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announces a lawsuit against the Trump administration on March 29, 2017.

Seattle will not be bullied into helping with federal immigration enforcement, Mayor Murray said on Wednesday. The city is taking the Trump administration to court over what it calls “an unconstitutional order.”

The lawsuit targets an executive order President Trump signed in January. That order threatens to cut federal funds from cities that refuse to share immigration and citizenship data. 

At a press conference Wednesday, Murray directed the lawsuit against Trump, Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Sessions said Monday that cities with sanctuary policies “make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the street.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes argued the opposite: It’s a greater concern if people avoid the police. 

"If you don’t have witnesses or victims of crime reporting to the police, we are all less safe," Holmes said.

“We are not breaking any laws and we are prioritizing safety,” Murray said, citing data that sanctuary cities have a reduction in crime rates. “Bullying and misstating the facts will not stand in the way of how the real laws of this country are enforced.”

The city's lawsuit hinges on two key arguments. One, that the feds cannot use the threat of funding cuts to coerce local governments into action. They claim that’s unconstitutional. And two, that Seattle’s sanctuary policies are lawful because they don’t hinder the feds from doing their job. For example, policy that directs Seattle police not to ask about immigration status.

“Local governments do not enforce federal law and are prohibited from doing so,” Holmes said.

Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez made a brief statement with fellow Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez at her side saying she had relatives keeping their IDs on them because of their last name. Juarez said Seattle should not allow the federal government to use the police as their militia.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, saying the executive order creates uncertainty over the city’s budget.

No funds have yet been withheld from Seattle. But Murray says about $10 million in law enforcement grants could be on the line, possibly more.

Similar lawsuits are also underway in at least two other states. Murray says he expects other cities will join Seattle’s efforts in the coming days. 

The federal justice department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Year started with KUOW: 2006