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King County Could Lose DOJ Funding Over Its Immigration Enforcement Policies

Despite objections from 53 Democratic members of Congress.

Just in time for the new fiscal year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions started making good on his promises to pull Department of Justice grant funding from so-called sanctuary cities. And on Thursday of this week, 53 Democratic members of Congress, including local U.S. Representatives Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, sent a letter to Sessions decrying those efforts.

In late July, the DOJ announced that it would, from now on, only award funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program to those jurisdictions that promise to “increase information sharing” between federal immigration officers and local law enforcement. It’s a new requirement that runs counter to a number of Seattle and King County immigration policies. It’s also a grant program that both Seattle and King County have relied on for a number of years. In 2016, Seattle received $248,000 in Byrne grant funding for crime prevention efforts and King County received $203,000 for an ongoing program that helps reduce recidivism.

“We must encourage these ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions to change their policies and partner with federal law enforcement to remove criminals,” said Sessions in the July statement. “From now on, the Department will only provide Byrne JAG grants to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”

King County does not allow federal immigration agents to interview anyone in any detention facility or local jail without a criminal warrant, and does not ask the immigration status of detainees, meaning that it can’t (and, in effect, won’t) provide 48 hours notice to the feds.

This week, 53 members of Congress shot back at Sessions, calling the new rules “onerous” and “an unwarranted, coercive effort to leverage communities’ longstanding reliance on Byrne-JAG funds in furtherance of the Trump Administration’s mass-deportation agenda.” They demand to know what statutory authority Sessions is using to base the new Byrne grant rules on and debate their ability to pass muster with the U.S. Constitution. They also argue that the new rules “fail to recognize that studies have shown that immigrants in our country are less likely to commit serious crimes than native-born individuals.”

The letter comes less than two weeks before local jurisdictions like King County have to submit their budget proposals and grant applications to the DOJ, according to Alex Fryer, a spokesperson from Executive Dow Constantine’s office.

“We have until August 28 to come up with a budget that will be submitted to the Department of Justice by September 5,” he says. “And we are doing that. We are asking for the same amount—the $203,000 for the same program for next year.”

And what’s the likelihood of King County getting what it asks for? “I don’t think we know at this point.”

It’s all going to depend on how the Attorney General’s office views it, Fryer explains. “We’re pretty confident that we’re in the clear here”—one new rule, for example, demands that Byrne grantees abide by U.S. code 1373, which bars restrictions on all communication between local officials and immigration officials, a rule King County and Seattle both already comply with—“but this is the Trump administration, so there is a bit of a question mark on everything.”

Last month, both Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray emphasized their commitment to local immigration policies.

“As the Trump Administration tries to bully local governments into imprisoning people without judicial due process, we will stand by our values and the Constitution,” said Constantine at the time.

And Murray said the removal of federal grants like these “weakens law enforcement and puts extreme stress on our community as a whole. But just as we sued the Trump administration and Attorney General Sessions over their reckless anti-immigrant policies earlier this year, we will continue to stand up for what is right.”

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