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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 17, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 46
DOJ to Seattle: Stop protecting immigrants
Section One
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DOJ to Seattle: Stop protecting immigrants

Jenny Durkan to DOJ: Drop dead

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has warned Seattle that its so-called 'sanctuary city' policy may be in violation of federal law and could result in cancellation of federal grants that help pay for law enforcement.

In response, Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan issued a strongly worded statement vowing that 'our City will fight Trump every step of the way' to defend City policy.

King County Executive Dow Constantine and King County Council President Joe McDermott received the same warning from the DOJ.

Since the Trump administration assumed power in January, it has been US government policy to arrest and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible, and to threaten uncooperative cities with the loss of federal funds.

In its latest letter, the DOJ expressed 'concern' about Seattle's policy and threatened to cancel federal funding for three civilian crime prevention specialists in Seattle's police department.

'This action is both immoral and illegal,' Durkan said in a November 15 statement.

'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. Unfortunately for the Trump administration, multiple federal judges have ruled that the Department of Justice cannot withhold 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.'

Durkan will take office once the recent election is formally certified on November 28. In the meantime, current mayor Tim Burgess also criticized the administration, noting that the '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,' Burgess continued, 'that a president who says he wants to reduce crime and help crime victims works to remove funding from programs that do exactly that.'

'Sanctuary cities' instruct local police not to go out of their way to assist federal immigration authorities to find and detain undocumented immigrants. For example, Seattle police do not ask people for proof of legal residence in the US even if they are detained for other crimes, and do not hold immigrants for federal authorities absent a specific warrant for their arrest.

Seattle first became a sanctuary city in the 1980s to assist refugees fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. In 2003, the City Council passed legislation preventing city employees - including police officers - from asking about individuals' immigration status.

Federal judge blocks DOJ action in Philadelphia
In an action that potentially has bearing on Seattle's situation, a US district judge issued an injunction preventing the DOJ from withholding federal funds from the City of Philadelphia, also a sanctuary city.

In a 128-page ruling issued November 15, Judge Michael Baylson wrote that after considering the probability that Philadelphia would win its lawsuit against the DOJ on the merits, and also taking into account the public interest, 'the court will issue a preliminary injunction in favor of the city.'

The ruling comes two weeks after Baylson declared from the bench that the City of Philadelphia substantially complied with the Trump administration's conditions.

'Both the federal government and the city of Philadelphia have important interests at stake here, and the court does not minimize either of their concerns,' the judge wrote.

'In this case, given Philadelphia's unique approach to meshing the legitimate needs of the federal government to remove criminal aliens with the City's promotion of health and safety, there is no conflict of any significance.'

At stake is a relatively small $1.5 million federal grant to a city with a $4.4 billion budget, but the legal principle is huge - whether the Trump administration can compel cities to help deport immigrants by withholding federal grant money.

Philadelphia filed suit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions in August.

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