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Seattle takes Trump to court over sanctuary city funding threats

Millions in federal funds are on the line. But the City of Seattle is picking a fight with the Trump administration over sanctuary cities because of larger costs.

“Their war on facts has become a war on cities,” Mayor Ed Murray said Wednesday in an announcement of a federal lawsuit brought by Seattle demanding legal clarification on a Trump executive order that threatens so-called sanctuary cities that don’t collaborate with immigration authorities with the loss of government grants.

City Attorney Pete Holmes said Tuesday that the case being brought pro bono by global law firm Mayer Brown on Seattle’s behalf does not seek a restraining order on the administration’s latest threats. Instead, Holmes said, Seattle is asking for “a sober statement of the law” after “incessant saber rattling.” President Trump has been “misstating the law, pandering to crime and fear,” Holmes said.

The Seattle lawsuit will join similar suits filed by California’s San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department will follow through on the administration’s threat to withhold as much as $4.1 billion in federal grants from sanctuary cities. “Such policies cannot continue,” Sessions said. “They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.”

Seattle’s status as a sanctuary city has been part of City Hall’s resistance to the Trump administration since the initial order in the first days following the inauguration. At Thanksgiving, Murray signed an executive order reaffirming policies including a 2003 ordinance prohibiting city officers or employees to ask people about immigration status. In Seattle, only ICE and other federal agencies are supposed to enforce laws related to undocumented residents. However, Seattle officers can inquire about status if there is reason think the person is back in the U.S. after being previously deported and if they are committing or have committed a felony. CHS reported on Seattle’s status as a sanctuary city here. In the meantime, community groups were organizing an effort to establish Capitol Hill as a “sanctuary neighborhood” inside the city while an effort to create a “Trump-proof” income tax in Seattle to galvanize the city against potential punitive cutbacks is also moving forward.

Wednesday, Murray said the threats are damaging the city’s ability to plan its budget and that Seattle’s resistance against the sanctuary city executive order will be a legal debate based on the 10th Amendment’s protections for local authorities and what the mayor said is the illegal coercion of cities with threats to cut funding wholly unrelated to immigration and enforcement. “It is violating the law. It is unconstitutional.”

“We value civil rights, we value the courts, and we value the constitution,” Murray said.

“It is time for cities to ask the courts to end the anxiety in our communities.”

The mayor’s office posted details of the lawsuit and a copy of the complaint here along with information on the elements of the city’s budget connected to federal funding:

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:
o Domestic violence prevention;
o Efforts to detect and interrupt internet crimes against children;
o Youth violence prevention;
o Crime prevention;
o Community-oriented policing;
o Gun violence prevention;
o Reducing recidivism rates
o Body-worn video development;
o School and community safety; and
o Human trafficking investigation and prosecution.

 

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