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The Trump administration warns Seattle and King County over ‘sanctuary policies’

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The DOJ has threatened to withhold grant money from 29 cities, counties, and states

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Back in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’d withhold Department of Justice (DOJ) law enforcement grants from what are known as “sanctuary cities” or “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Wednesday, the DOJ made a much more specific threat to 29 different jurisdictions, including the City of Seattle and King County.

The threat to withhold grant money came just hours after a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration can’t withhold law enforcement grants from what they deem “sanctuary cities.”

The letters call into question both the city and the county’s eligibility for Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAGs), which can fund crime prevention, drug treatment, and other things related to law enforcement and justice systems. The letter calls the city and county to “coordinate” and “submit a joint response” to defend their eligibility.

The city uses the money to fund “civilian crime specialists” in the Seattle Police Department. The county’s grants go toward many different programs, including $1.15 million to the prosecuting attorney’s office for firearms cases and $1 million to adult and juvenile detention.

“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,” said mayor Tim Burgess in a statement.

This was not totally unexpected. Seattle is considered a sanctuary city by most definitions, largely due to a 2003 ordinance that bars law enforcement officials from inquiring about residents’ immigration statuses. The DOJ letter cites both that ordinance and a 2016 executive order from then-mayor Ed Murray that bars any city employee from doing the same.

“We adopted [the 2003] law so that no one would fear reporting a crime or approaching a police officer to request help, especially victims of domestic violence,” said Burgess.

For King County, the letter includes a 2009 ordinance that’s extremely similar to Seattle’s 2003 ordinance: It bars the King County Sheriff’s office from inquiring about immigration status. The DOJ’s letter also points to two sections of the King County Sheriff’s General Orders Manual, one that limits cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and another that essentially recaps the ordinance.

King County Executive Dow Constantine maintained late Wednesday that the county is in compliance with federal laws. He added, “I am genuinely impressed that the [Attorney General], who this week spent most of his time backtracking on lies to Congress about Russia, has time to demand that we unlawfully detain our residents.”

Instead of being addressed to the executive, the DOJ directed their letter to King County council president Joe McDermott, who told us that after coordinating with prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg and executive Constantine, he’s “prepared to respond forcefully and directly to this Trump Administration attempt to bully and intimidate residents of King County.”

“I want to take this opportunity to tell people from Federal Way to Shoreline, from Maple Valley to Woodinville that we value them and that King County is a welcoming and safe place,” McDermott added.

The DOJ claims that the outlined policies could violate a law that states local governments can’t restrict information about citizenship or immigration status from certain federal agents. Seattle has maintained that the city is in compliance with federal laws—something that Burgess, Constantine, and McDermott all confirmed late Wednesday.

Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan, who takes over as mayor later this month, said in a statement in light of this morning’s legal decision, it’s actually the DOJ that’s violating the law: “This action is immoral and illegal. 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.”

“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,” Durkan continued.

Seattle already filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration back in March over Sessions’s initial threats to withhold federal funding. In a motion to dismiss the suit in June, the Trump administration claimed it hadn’t specified whether or not Seattle was a “sanctuary jurisdiction.” A judge threw out that motion to dismiss just last month, noting that the president had mentioned Seattle before.