Today, President Donald Trump signed an executive order cutting federal funding to sanctuary cities, seemingly fulfilling Seattle’s fear that its opposition to Trump’s immigration policies would come to a head in the form of massive budget cuts.
But there are still more questions to answers regarding what the action could mean for Seattle.
Once confirmed as Attorney General, Jeff Sessions will decide what counts as a sanctuary city. The executive order directs Sessions to “take appropriate enforcement actions” against sanctuary cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration police. The order also directs the Director of Homeland Security to deputize local police to enforce federal immigration laws.
In effect, Trump is keeping his campaign promise to cleanse America of undocumented immigrants, and to go after anyone who tries to protect them.
Seattle will almost certainly be on Sessions’ list. Since 2003, we’ve prohibited city employees, including police, from inquiring about someone’s immigration status (in most cases). In 2009 King County passed a similar ordinance. As we reported previously, federal funding makes up $37 million of the city’s Human Services Department’s $144 million budget; much of that federal money goes to homeless programs. It’s not yet clear how much of that or other federal funding is in jeopardy.
City and county officials roundly condemned the executive order this afternoon. King County Council chair Joe McDermott called it “vague and inexact” and said there are no plans to repeal the county’s sanctuary ordinance. On the steps of City Hall in front of a crowd of a couple hundred people, Mayor Ed Murray and members of City Council swore up and down that Seattle will not change the 2003 ordinance which (typically) prohibits city employees from asking about a person’s immigration status.
In short: despite President Trump’s executive order, Seattle will remain a sanctuary city.
“I’m willing to lose every single penny” of federal funding, Murray said, before he’d be willing to lose that 2003 ordinance. Murray estimated that every single penny adds up to roughly $75 million per year. The entire annual city budget is about $5 billion.
Referring to President Trump’s executive order, the mayor called today “one of the darkest days in American immigration history” since the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Murray’s husband Michael Shiosaki is Japanese-American, and the mayor reflected on the racist differences between the treatment of Shiosaki’s ancestors and the treatment of his own, Irish ancestors when they respectively emigrated to America.
“This city will not be bullied,” said Murray. “We will not allow our police to become deputies of the federal government and round up immigrants…We will not be intimidated by the [threat of lost] federal funding or by the authoritarian message” of President Trump’s order, he said. “To turn children and their parents over for money—and to violate the Constitution—is a place I cannot go.”
Brandishing a booklet copy of the U.S. Constitution in her hand, councilmember Debora Juarez echoed Murray’s roar, telling Trump, “You are violating our United States Constitution.” She urged the crowd, “It’s time we look at our Constitution and we use it” to defend against Trump’s plan to round up immigrants.
On Monday, councilmember M. Lorena González will introduce for immediate adoption a resolution (which is different from a legally binding ordinance) “affirming the City of Seattle as a Welcoming City” for all people, including undocumented immigrants. A majority of the council say they plan to vote in favor of the resolution. It reads in part:
“The City of Seattle will not cooperate or assist with any unconstitutional or illegal registration or surveillance programs or any other unconstitutional or illegal laws, rules, or policies targeted at those of Muslim faith and/or of Middle Eastern descent and rejects any attempts to characterize family, friends, neighbors and colleagues as enemies of the state.” The resolution says that “Seattle does not tolerate hate speech,” and instructs the Office of Civil Rights to create a hotline for reporting discrimination and harassment. The resolution also “rejects any effort to criminalize or attack the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.”
More concretely, it instructs city employees to forward all requests to hold prisoners sent by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) to King County, since the county runs the jail. Per a 2014 county ordinance, county jailers are supposed to “only honor ICE detainer requests that are accompanied by a criminal warrant issued by a federal judge or magistrate,” according to González’s resolution.
The resolution further establishes an “Inclusive and Equitable City Cabinet” to advise the city on protecting immigrants’ and others’ civil rights “in light of potential changes in Federal Government policy and operations.” That cabinet is instructed to develop a plan for spending $250,000 to help immigrant and refugee students and families in Seattle Public Schools. Finally, the resolution orders the cabinet to work out a legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants, whom courts have ruled are not Constitutionally entitled to legal representation in deportation court.
This post has been edited and updated. A quote of Murray’s and the status of Jeff Sessions have been corrected.