The DOJ is once again stirring up the “sanctuary city” pot by sending letters to several cities questioning their policies. This time, Seattle made the list.
The issue at hand is whether Seattle’s laws are compliant with federal law 8 USC 1373, which specifies:
Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, no person or agency may prohibit, or in any way restrict, a Federal, State, or local government entity from doing any of the following with respect to information regarding the immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual:
Seattle Municipal Code 4.18.015 says:
A. Notwithstanding Seattle Municipal Code Section 4.18.010, unless otherwise required by law or by court order, no Seattle City officer or employee shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person.
B. Seattle Police officers are exempt from the limitations imposed by subsection A, above, with respect to a person whom the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe: (1) has previously been deported from the United States; (2) is again present in the United States; and (3) is committing or has committed a felony criminal-law violation.
In the past, Seattle’s law was interpreted to mean “the city’s employees may not ask a person about their immigration status.” But in the letter that the DOJ sent the city yesterday, they raise concerns that it means that city employees also can’t ask the INS about someone’s immigration status.
When the city applies to the DOJ for grants related to law-enforcement programs, it is required to certify its compliance with 8 USC 1373 as a condition of qualifying. Based upon its prior interpretation of Seattle’s law, the city has certified its compliance. But now the DOJ is asking the city to take another look at this, and reaffirm that it is complaint. Underlying this is a threat that it will lose federal funding (or eligibility for future funding) from the DOJ.
Mayor Burgess issued a defiant statement yesterday afternoon in response to the letter:
“We received a letter today from the US Department of Justice expressing ‘concern’ over a law that has been on our books since 2003 that prevents city government employees, including police officers, from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status with limited exceptions. 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.
“Now, the Trump Administration is threatening to withdraw federal grant money from Seattle that is used to fund the work of three civilian crime prevention specialists in our police department. These prevention specialists work with people throughout the city and give advice on how to avoid being a crime victim, how to report crimes that do occur, and how to take proactive steps to improve the physical environment to reduce crime. 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.
“The same city ordinance chapter that the Trump Administration is using to threaten us also says city employees are directed to cooperate with, and not hinder, enforcement of federal immigration laws. Today’s letter is more bluster and bullying by the president based on his ideologically driven fixation on immigrants and refugees.
“Seattle is a welcoming city. We value the contributions made by the neighbors who live among us. We are proud of their presence.”
A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office had no immediate comment on the letter, other than that their in-house and external attorneys in D.C. are conferring today.