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Trump administration continues threats against King County for ‘sanctuary policies’

The DOJ has threatened to subpoena 23 cities, counties, and states

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Back in April, U.S. 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.” In November, the DOJ made a much more specific threat to 29 different jurisdictions, including the City of Seattle and King County.

Wednesday, Sessions went deeper on those threats to 23 jurisdictions, including King County. The DOJ, the letter read, “remains concerned that [King County’s] laws, policies, or practices may violate” a law that states local governments can’t restrict information about citizenship or immigration status from certain federal agents—“or, at a minimum, that they may be interpreted or applied in a manner inconsistent with [the law].”

The letters, both in November and this week, call into question 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 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.

For King County, DOJ takes issue with a 2009 ordinance barring the King County Sheriff’s office from inquiring about immigration status. The DOJ’s November letter also pointed 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. It’s extremely similar to a 2003 Seattle ordinance.

Councilor McDermott, to whom both letters were addressed, and King County Executive Dow Constantine have both maintained that the county is in compliance with federal law.

“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 said back in November.

As the new letter hit inboxes, McDermott told the Stranger, “this is nothing but bullying and intimidation and it’s a press stunt.”

“To be clear, we comply with the requirements for the federal public safety grants,” read a joint statement from the King County Council released yesterday. “The Department of Justice’s reckless actions threaten the safety of our communities.”

The City of Seattle wasn’t included in this round of threats. In a response to the November letter, Mayor Jenny Durkan, a former United States Attorney, and City Attorney Pete Holmes argued that not only is the city in compliance, it’s illegal to even make the threat in the first place, citing a November federal court decision that found that the federal government couldn’t withhold grant money from Philadelphia.

“With today’s announcement, it appears Seattle has successfully made the case to remain a welcoming city,” said Durkan in a statement. “But the fight to protect our citizens in all of King County continues.”

“We do not seek out a fight, but if necessary, we will see President Trump and Attorney General Sessions in court,” she continued. “We have the law—and justice—on our side.”

Durkan is one of many U.S. mayors that declined a meeting with President Donald Trump yesterday.

“For those asking, I was never planning on attending [Trump’s] photo op,” Durkan tweeted. “Nothing good is coming out of DC.”

City Councilor Lorena González also issued a statement. “The Department of Justice’s threat to cancel federal public safety grants is reckless and places our entire community at risk,” she said. “The Attorney General’s threat to do so is a thinly-veiled attack on the U.S. Constitution and a doubling-down on policies fueled by xenophobia.”

González, who spent a decade as a civil rights attorney before coming to city government, said she looks forward to “working with our County partners to defend the integrity of our constitutional laws, including the Tenth Amendment, which provides that cities and counties do not have an affirmative duty to cooperate with federal law enforcement.”

She added that the DOJ’s “threats and posturing is an attempt to distract our attention from Congress’ and the Trump Administration’s failure to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.”

Seattle already filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration back in March over Sessions’s initial threats to withhold federal funding. A judge threw out a motion to dismiss in October.