Seattle Files Lawsuit Against Trump’s ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Executive Order

Seattle Files Lawsuit Against Trump’s ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Executive Order

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The City of Seattle, under the direction of Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes, filed a lawsuit against Trump’s “sanctuary cities” Executive Order (No. 13768, 82 Fed. Reg. 8799) Wednesday. The order threatened to strip federal funding from cities that refused to assist the federal government in immigration enforcement and was reiterated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week. In this suit, the City of Seattle seeks a declaration that it is acting consistently with federal law and that the U.S. Constitution precludes application of the Order to deny it federal funds to which it is otherwise entitled. Seattle, a welcoming city where City employees do not inquire about immigration status and where all services are available to every resident, will argue the order is unconstitutional and that the City has not violated federal law.

“Seattle will not be bullied by this White House or this administration and today we are taking legal action against President Trump’s unconstitutional order,” said Murray. “We have the law on our side: the federal government cannot compel our police department to enforce federal immigration law and cannot use our federal dollars to coerce Seattle into turning our backs on our immigrant and refugee communities. We simply won’t do it. We are proud to be a welcoming city that is inclusive of all our residents. We are a safer more prosperous city because of our immigrant and refugee communities and will continue standing with them.”

The lawsuit, filed in the Western District of Washington Wednesday, makes two main arguments about the Executive Order:

  1. The order is unconstitutional and ambiguous, and creates uncertainty around Seattle’s budget by threatening federal funding. It violates the 10th amendment by attempting to force local entities to enforce federal immigration law; and violates the Spending Clause by attempting to coerce local action through the denial of federal funds.
  2. The City of Seattle and our welcoming city policies do not violate federal law. The Executive Order calls for localities to cooperate with the federal government and share information. City employees are directed to cooperate with, not hinder, federal actions; however, City employees are prohibited from inquiring into immigration status. The City doesn’t not prohibit information sharing, but instead limits the collection of information.

The ambiguity of the Executive Order leaves the City unable to accurately plan its upcoming budget. The Trump administration has made repeated threats cited in the lawsuit.

“Like Monday’s irresponsible press conference by the Attorney General, the Administration’s continual saber rattling is causing real harm in America’s cities,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes. “This lawsuit represents Seattle’s attempt to mute histrionics in favor of a plain statement of the law. I hope the President will refrain from tweeting his legal opinion before our Courts have an opportunity to do so.”

The City of Seattle has previously joined briefs against President Trump’s Executive Orders on travel from specific Muslim countries and filed a set of Freedom of Information Act requests for details of the administration’s definition of “sanctuary city.” While led by the City, other jurisdictions are welcome and encouraged to join this effort.

City of Seattle budget background

  • The City of Seattle receives federal funds in support of a wide variety of programs and through many channels, including direct from the federal granting agency, or indirect via the State of Washington, King County, or other interlocal agencies, universities, etc.
  • These funds are generally applied for and awarded to individual departments, which administer the spending of the awarded funds.
  • Many of the awards are multi-year awards, which departments program and spend throughout the eligible use period. Spending is not necessarily even across a multi-year award.
  • Most federal funds are reimbursed to the City after programmatic or capital spending has occurred, though in some cases the award is made up front.

City of Seattle 2017 federal funding

  • The City anticipates at least $55 million of federal funds to support operating expenses in 2017.
  • The City also receives federal support for its multi-year capital budget and expects to receive over $99 million of capital project support in 2017 alone.

Department of Justice (DOJ) funding

  • The City of Seattle receives federal funding from the Department of Justice (DOJ); these grant funds support multiple departments including the Seattle Police Department, Human Services Department and the City Auditor’s Office.
  • The City is scheduled to receive approximately $2.6 million from DOJ grants in 2017, a part of over $13 million in DOJ funds allocated over a multi-year period.
  • The City’s Department of Justice Grants support a variety of efforts including but not limited to: domestic violence prevention; efforts to detect and interrupt internet crimes against children; youth violence prevention; crime prevention; community-oriented policing; gun violence prevention; reducing recidivism rates; body-worn video development; school and community safety; and human trafficking investigation and prosecution.

San Francisco also sued Trump over the sanctuary cities Executive Order earlier this year, also saying his order was unconstitutional. A hearing has been set for April 14.

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