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Trump administration files motion to dismiss Seattle sanctuary lawsuit

The Trump administration says no damage has been done—but Seattle says the threat is enough

Tiffany Von Arnim/Flickr

On Monday, the Trump administration filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from the City of Seattle, according to the court document obtained by SCC Insight. If the motion is granted, it would throw out legal action by the City of Seattle intended to defend our eligibility for federal grants.

In late March, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced the suit against President Donald Trump’s administration over repeated threats to withhold federal funding from cities that won’t comply with the administration’s crackdown on immigration. The suit demands, among other things, that Seattle be declared in compliance with federal law, and that orders from the Trump administration to withdraw grant funding from sanctuary cities are unconstitutional.

The gist of the motion to dismiss is this: The Trump administration alleges that there’s no damage yet, since Seattle hasn’t been officially designated a “sanctuary jurisdiction,” although the administration hasn’t offered additional clarity about what those jurisdictions are.

“The City cannot show any injury due to the mere existence of the Executive Order, much less establish the ‘concrete’ and ‘palpable’ injury needed to meet the constitutional requirement of standing,” the motion says.

Kimberly Mills, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s office, told Curbed Seattle that they’ll “vigorously oppose” the Trump administration’s motion.

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 status.

President Trump has repeatedly threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities—and in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he’d withhold Department of Justice law enforcement grants from what are known as “sanctuary cities.”

Sessions eventually defined “sanctuary jurisdictions” in late May as any jurisdiction violating a law that states local governments can’t restrict information about citizenship or immigration status from certain federal agents. He didn’t offer more specifics about which cities in particular were in jeopardy of losing funding. (Seattle has claimed that the city believes it’s in compliance with federal laws.)

But Seattle’s initial suit alleges that the order itself does damage. The threat of withholding funding itself, the suit says, complicates the city budgeting process: “The prospect of that impact is having an immediate effect on Seattle, as it affects the choices that the City is now making in determining the allocation of funds in its annual budget.” The suit also argues that the 2003 ordinance is a public safety measure. Multiple studies, including one earlier this year at University of California-San Diego, found that cities are safer when local law enforcement doesn’t comply with federal immigration enforcement because immigrants feel safer reporting small crimes and other public health issues.

The two parties have a joint status report scheduled in U.S. District Court on June 28.