Jeff Sessions. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

Sessions Rattles Saber Against Sanctuary Cities

Local leaders were quick to growl back.

Today, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the Department of Justice will withhold federal grant money from so-called sanctuary cities that have limited protections for undocumented immigrants against deportation. The Trump administration comments, as they do, drew quick response from local politicians.

“The American people are justifiably angry,” said Sessions. “They know that when cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe.” (Actually, immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes that people born in the United States, and local police chiefs typically support sanctuary policies because undocumented immigrants would otherwise be afraid to report crimes to the police.) “Failure to deport aliens who are convicted for criminal offenses,” Sessions continued, “puts whole communities at risk – especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators.”

In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order cutting federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions. According to a memo released last month by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), King County is among Trump’s targets. In 2013, the county passed an ordinance which requires police and jailers to only honor ICE requests to hold undocumented immigrants if ICE can show the immigrant in question has been convicted of a serious crime. Seattle also has a sanctuary policy that (typically) prohibits city employees, including police, from asking about a person’s immigration status. Both laws are carefully written to avoid conflicts with federal law.

Local officials quickly responded to Sessions’ comments. “Attorney General Jeff Session’s latest threat does not change our position,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray in a press release. “As I’ve said, I’m willing to risk losing every penny of federal funding to stand by our commitment to protect everyone in our community.” He accused the Trump administration of “bigotry” through its immigration policy.

City Attorney Pete Holmes weighed in. “Just like the original executive order targeting so-called ‘sanctuary cities,’ today’s press statements in D.C. provided little if any legal clarity to guide otherwise law abiding Welcoming Cities like Seattle,” he said in the same press release. “The Attorney General’s comments appear to be little more than cynical attempts to talk about anything other than Trumpcare or Russia following a bad week for the Trump administration…The city will not be bullied into abandoning its principles.”

Congressional Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-7) expressed similar thoughts. “The Trump administration’s latest attack on sanctuary cities is nothing more than political posturing based on alternative facts. The vast majority of these cities follow the law cited by the Attorney General to justify his crackdown,” she said in a press release. “Our cities will not be bullied into making their own neighborhoods less safe by compromising the trust local police have built with immigrant communities. This is a nonsensical policy based on xenophobic falsehoods.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine was also uncowed. “If this is about coercing a local jurisdiction to imprison people without judicial process then no, we will not be bullied — we will continue to honor the Constitution, rather than the extrajudicial orders of any person, including the President,” he said in a press release. “That may or may not put some Department of Justice funding to communities like ours at risk.” Constantine added that the Trump administration will face serious legal challenges if and when it actually takes action to withhold funding from any sanctuary cities.

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

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