City leaders announce the lawsuit against Trump administration. Left to right: González, Murray, Juarez, Holmes. Photo by Casey Jaywork.

Seattle Sues Trump Administration Over Order to Defund Sanctuary Cities

The suit could set a precedent for the POTUS’s authority to deport people.

The City of Seattle is suing the Trump administration over the President’s order to cut all federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities,” which provide limited protection against deportation for undocumented residents. City Attorney Pete Holmes said that the executive order is both vague and unconstitutional; he wants a federal judge to “nail down” exactly what that order means, and then strike it down. The lawsuit specifically names President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly as defendants.

The city, Holmes said in a press conference this afternoon, is seeking a “declaratory judgement” in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on Seattle’s compliance with the federal law that requires cities to partly cooperate with federal deportation police. “We want a statement from the court on Seattle’s either compliance with” federal law, Holmes said, “or if there’s any suggestion that we’re not in compliance, to raise the issue of whether those provisions are constitutional.” In the lawsuit, Holmes argues that the Trump administration is overstepping the constitutional boundaries of its authority by withholding funding. What he wants from a federal judge, Holmes said, to to rule that “we’re either in complaince with the law, or the law which is being forced at us by the Trump administration…is, as interpreted, unconstitutional.”

According to Mayor Ed Murray’s office, this year alone the city is expecting at least $55 million in federal funding for operating expenses (running things) and more than $99 million for capital projects (building stuff). That includes $2.6 million from the Department of Justice, which Sessions directs. But Holmes says that the damage of Trump and Sessions’ threats against sanctuary cities extends beyond just federal funding. Those threats have spooked undocumented Seattle residents, who are now less willing to cooperate with police for fear of deportation. For example, “In the week that executive order [to defund sanctuary cities] came out, we had a domestic violence case we were prosecuting on behalf of a non-citizen,” said Holmes. The victim stopped cooperating with prosecutors and went underground for safety, he said.

Announcing the lawsuit, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told reporters that the Trump administration’s “war on facts has now become a war on cities.” Joined by Latina councilmembers Debora Juarez and M. Lorena González, Murray accused Trump and his cabinet of “bullying and misstating the facts.”

“We now have relatives that are keeping their IDs on them because they have a Latina last name,” said Juarez. She added that Trump shouldn’t be allowed to turn local police into a “federal militia.”

U.S. Congressional representative Pramila Jayapal (D-7) praised Seattle leaders for filing the lawsuit. “Seattle has been at the forefront of standing up for immigrants for decades,” she said in a press release. (Jayapal herself immigrated from India.) “I’m fully behind Seattle’s decision to challenge the administration’s executive order. The president has been on a losing streak in courtrooms across the country where his immigration orders have been challenged. I would not be surprised if he keeps on losing as long as he pursues hateful and poorly-designed policies.”

Here’s how Holmes summarizes the city’s complaint in the lawsuit itself:

The ultimate effect of the Executive Order will be to impose significant penalties on Seattle so long as the City fails to assist the federal government in its immigration enforcement efforts. That outcome is illegal, for several reasons.

First, Seattle complies with Section 1373. It therefore is not a “sanctuary jurisdiction” as defined by the Executive Order and, for that reason, may not be subjected to the punitive denial of federal funding pursuant to the Order. Second, insofar as Section 1373 or other provisions of federal law are thought to require Seattle affirmatively to assist in federal immigration enforcement efforts, the Executive Order is unconstitutional in several respects when it seeks to penalize Seattle for failing to comply with that law:

• The Executive Order violates the Tenth Amendment. It is fundamental that the federal government may not direct state and local governments to regulate in a particular way or to enforce a federal regulatory program. Yet that is just what the Executive Order does.

• The Executive Order violates the U.S. Constitution’s Spending Clause. U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 1. It is fundamental that the federal government may neither coerce state or local action through the denial of federal funds, nor seek to affect such action by denying funds that are not germane to the federal program at issue. Yet that is just what the Executive Order does.

• The Executive Order is fatally ambiguous. It is fundamental that state and local governments are not bound by conditions attached to federal grants unless those conditions are clearly stated. Yet the Executive Order is incomprehensibly imprecise in the obligations that it purports to impose on municipalities, as is Section 1373 if that statute is thought to require affirmative acts of immigration enforcement.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

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