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Seattle’s ‘sanctuary city’ status can’t protect immigrants against the feds — but it’s a start

City of Blinding Lights

On Thanksgiving, Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order reaffirming policies including a 2003 ordinance prohibiting city officers or employees to ask people about immigration statuses.

But city policies, orders and the label “sanctuary city” don’t put immigrants in Seattle in a protected bubble, which is why Matt Adams, legal director at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, doesn’t use the term “sanctuary city.”

“This place doesn’t protect you from our current federal immigration laws,” he said, adding that he still feels it is important for city leaders to do what they can to support all community members.

The city supports its immigrants by not reporting them to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Seattle Police Department exists to serve and protects all community members, he said.

“Some cities and police departments go out of their way to spend their resources to enforce immigration laws,” Adams said. Immigrants then become afraid to work with police or be witnesses.


While Seattle doesn’t spend its resources enforcing federal immigration laws, the national government still has authority and does deport immigrants in the city.

In Seattle, only ICE and other federal agencies 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.

In October, CHS reported on one federal immigration arrest on Capitol Hill in October.

Chief Kathleen O’Toole says SPD’s policies regarding immigration will not change.

“Throughout my career in policing and as Seattle Police Chief, I have unwaveringly supported the rights of undocumented people, who are vulnerable, too often victimized and exploited, and may not feel safe coming forward when they are victims of crime,” she said in a statement a week after the election.

Murray’s executive order also creates an Inclusive Equitable City Cabinet that aims to “coordinate City efforts to protect the civil liberties and civil rights of Seattle residents.”

Adams told CHS there is a lot of health and social services needs in the immigrant community.

Murray’s order provides $250,000 to respond to that. The funds will go toward for “the needs of unauthorized immigrant students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools and their families.”

Since Donald Trump was elected president, Adams said the NWIRP has seen an increase of immigrants who are concerned about their ongoing cases, their statuses or what Trump’s election will mean for them or their spouse.

Not Happy II

Murray says Seattle will remain a sanctuary city even at the risk of losing federal funds.

“This city supports immigrants. We support those folks partly because we are enamored with their belief in our dream that this is really still a place of equity and equality and opportunity,” Murray said at a November 9th press conference.

Seattle isn’t alone in its stance to protect immigrants, the Associated Press reported that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel will also strive to continue as sanctuary cities.

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10 thoughts on “Seattle’s ‘sanctuary city’ status can’t protect immigrants against the feds — but it’s a start

  1. Given that the ‘Sanctuary City’ policy is 13 years old and isn’t changing, the real news here is that Ed has created (yet another) panel, and needs just a few hundred thousand more dollars, so we can all be in awe of how compassionate he is.

    So basically…any given day in Seattle.

  2. “This place doesn’t protect you from our current federal immigration laws,”
    There is nothing overly fascist about federal immigration laws. Since Seattle seems so intent on making sure nationals of other countries don’t have to abide US federal law maybe they can exempt US citizens from having to follow the laws to.

    • Haven’t you heard? There is no distinction between entering the country illegally and legally. If you think there is than you are a racist. Why even have immigration laws at all? Just throw open the border.

  3. Legal Immigrants have many rights. Illegals have rights to due process in their deportation.

    Stop distorting out language. I and many liberals want to see our laws enforced.

    Those who scream loudly and attempt to conflate legal and illegal will not prevail. And thy should not.

  4. If Trump actually follows through on deporting illegals convicted of a felony, and not law-abiding illegals, then his policy will be basically the same as Obama’s….and I think this is the approach to take. The question is, though…..What to do with the other 9 million illegals?

  5. Since I am not Trump, it is not Trumpian to believe that illegal immigration should not be permitted, end of discussion. The logical extension of those who believe otherwise is to allow anyone who overstays a Visa or who is able to sneak over a border to stay. The number of those interested in being here is in the hundreds of millions of the world’s population. Is that your belief, or is there a certain number you are OK with? The rest of the world enforces their rules, and only 30 countries of so have birthright citizenship for babies born to non-legal residents.

    Then there are our legal rules that need to be revised. In the days of costly travel and poor communications, it might make sense to promote family unification. But I have personally seen elderly non-english speaking parents who have contributed nothing, immigrate and draw on Medicare, SSI, and other costly benefits. The only people who should be allowed in are those who can demonstrably contribute and not draw on public resources. Spouses and minor children should get a preference. Not adult parents, siblings, cousins and the like. And a limited number of refugees. An airplane trip anywhere in the world is about 1000.00 when carefully bought. Skype is ubiquitous. And no line jumping via illegal means. I am not Trump by any stretch but most people who are liberal in most areas also are not happy with unenforced immigration. And our city has zero business advocating in this arena.