Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) specifically targeted “sanctuary cities” this week. In a raid called “operation safe cities,” ICE arrested nearly 500 people, including 26 in Washington. (Their initial release claimed 33 arrests in Seattle, when only one was in the Seattle limits.)
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. The city has also filed suit against the Trump administration over threats to withhold funding from sanctuary cities and established a legal defense fund for local immigrants and refugees.
This raid, which also targeted New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and others, is the latest in a long string of animosity from the federal government toward what they consider “sanctuary cities,” although it’s one of the first actions to go beyond a threat.
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.
Sessions 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.
Seattle has claimed that the city believes it’s in compliance with federal laws. The Seattle city attorney’s office confirmed that in a comment to Curbed Seattle today. They said while the 2003 ordinance prohibits city officials from collecting immigration status information, it also directs city officials and employees to “cooperate with, and not hinder, enforcement of federal immigration laws.”
“Nor does federal law require us to allow ICE access to jails (of which we don’t have any),” the statement continued, “nor does it require us to provide 48 hours’ notice to ICE when a person is to be released from custody.” (Those last two requirements, they said, were imposed by Sessions and are currently winding through the courts, but an injunction against enforcement was granted.)
ICE director Tom Homan said in a statement that “non-cooperation policies severely undermine that effort at the expense of public safety.” But studies show that “safe cities” are a more likely to be “sanctuary cities.”
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.
In their suit against the Trump administration, the city says the 2003 ordinance is a matter of public safety, too. “Such an approach encourages members of immigrant communities both to cooperate with law enforcement personnel in preventing and solving crime, and to seek health assistance when necessary,” reads the suit. “These policies are overwhelmingly supported by local law enforcement personnel across the nation.”
This article has been updated with a statement from the City Attorney’s office and to clarify the number of arrests.