Justice Department threatens nine “sanctuary jurisdictions,” but not Seattle

On Friday, the Justice Department sent letters to nine jurisdictions requiring them to certify that they are in compliance with the federal law requiring certain forms of cooperation with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws.  But Seattle was not one of the recipients.

According to a Justice Department press release, they sent letters “to nine jurisdictions which were identified in a May 2016 report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General as having laws that potentially violate 8 U.S.C. § 1373.” The letters remind the jurisdiction that as a condition of receiving a federal grant from the DOJ they agreed to certify their compliance with the law by June 30, 2017. The letters threaten several potential actions if certification is not supplied:

“Failure to comply with this condition could result in the withholding of grant funds, suspension or termination of the grant, ineligibility for future OJP grants or subgrants, or other actions, as appropriate.”

one of the nine letters the DOJ sent out Friday


8 U.S.C 1373 says:

Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.

As I’ve reported previously, Seattle is suing the Justice Department because it believes that it is in compliance with that statute and wants clarity on that issue.

The nine jurisdictions that received letters are:

  • State of California
  • Chicago, IL
  • Cook County, IL
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Miami/Dade County, FL
  • Milwaukee County, WI
  • New York, NY

These are nine of ten jurisdictions investigated by the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General in a report issued last May — back when it was still under the Obama Administration.

Leaders in several of those jurisdictions are already firing back at the DOJ for last Friday’s letters.

All nine letters specifically reference one particular DOJ grant program, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Under the relevant case law, the federal government may only withhold funding for reasons that are relevant to the intended use of the funding (though technically only Congress can do it, not the Executive Branch) which is why they are making threats regarding this particular grant program. Seattle also received a 2016 grant under this program for $673,000, so it’s notable — and possibly a good sign — that the DOJ has decided not to threaten Seattle at this time.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the DOJ won’t send a similar letter to the city in the near future. Or perhaps it plans to deal with Seattle through the lawsuit that Seattle filed. Speaking of which, the DOJ has not yet filed a formal response to the city’s complaint, and a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office told me this morning that they have not received any communication from the DOJ on the lawsuit (they have 60 days to file their response).