AG Jeff Sessions: Sanctuary cities ‘endangering lives of every American'

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that Justice Department grants will be withheld from so-called sanctuary cities that do not comply with immigration laws and enforcement.

Interpretations vary for the term sanctuary cities, but in Seattle, it means that people seeking help will not be routinely asked whether they are in the country legally.

Key developments: 

  • The United States has more than 140 sanctuary jurisdictions, with large cities including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.
  • Washington counties are among the nation's least cooperative with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Trump announced in January that the administration planned to strip federal grant money
  • Mayor Ed Murray told reporters that Seattle could lose $85 million by remaining a sanctuary city.
  • During his state of the city address in February, Murray said he is willing to sue President Trump over executive orders.
  • Jeff Sessions reiterated on Monday that the DOJ will withhold grants from sanctuary cities.
  • Seattle's loss of funding could hit the police department the hardest.

President Donald Trump's administration announced plans to strip federal grant money in January. Mayor Ed Murray revealed at that time that Seattle could lose $85 million by remaining a sanctuary. The city operates on a $5 billion budget.

Murray said Seattle will keep fighting back.

"I'm willing to risk losing every penny of federal funding to stand by our commitment to protect everyone in our community. If Attorney General Sessions is so concerned about Seattle's safety, pulling law enforcement dollars from cities nationwide is the height of hypocrisy and makes us less safe," he said in a statement.

Sessions said on Monday that the DOJ will require compliance with immigration laws in order for the cities to receive grants through the Office of Justice Programs. The Obama administration had a similar policy in place.

Washington counties are among the nation's least cooperative with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to Sessions, jurisdictions that don't honor detainer requests on undocumented immigrants in custody make Americans less safe.

What's a detainer? A "detainer" requests that a local law enforcement agency notify ICE as early as 48 hours before an illegal immigrant is released from criminal custody. The detainer also asks that local enforcement briefly maintain custody of the illegal immigrant for DHS to assume custody for removal purposes.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, referred to court rulings that jails honoring detainers violate the U.S. Constitution.

Sessions spoke at length about sanctuary cities and non-cooperative jurisdictions “endangering lives of every American.”

"The charges and convictions against these aliens include drug trafficking, hit and run, rape, sex offenses against a child, and even murder. Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the streets," he said.

Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole commented about immigration and crime in January.

"Of course, we are concerned about people, who carry guns, who are involved in drugs, who are involved in gangs, who are involved in trafficking, and if they're undocumented we're going to enforce the law against them as we would anybody else. But the vast majority of undocumented people in our community are law-abiding people, and we need to work with them as a police service," O'Toole said.

Under the sanctuary, police are prohibited from asking immigration status during stops unless they have a reasonable suspicion the person is here illegally.

The Police Department could $75 million in federal grants from the Trump administration. O'Toole said that federal funding supports local efforts in internet crimes against children, aid the human trafficking task force, and assist women who come back to the city after incarceration.

Speaking at Seattle University on January 11, Murray was asked about sanctuary cities and what plans he had if federal funding was stopped.

He initially didn’t answer the question, but after being called out by an audience member Murray spoke about increases in property taxes.

"If the federal government fails to come forward, if the state continues to be paralyzed maybe we'll have to go back to the voters again," Murray said.

Murray, in his annual state of the city address delivered in February from a local mosque, said Seattle was filing public records requests with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies seeking information about the Trump administration's definition of "sanctuary cities" and what "enforcement actions the federal government may take against us."

Seattle isn't the only city at risk of losing funding in Washington state.

But Kirkland Deputy Mayor Jay Arnold believes Sessions' threats will have little impact on his city. He said Kirkland remains committed to being a “welcoming city” and that includes never asking about immigration status.

“In order for police to do their jobs and be safe, they want people to be comfortable coming to them with any problem,” Arnold explained.

On the line in Kirkland: $10,000 in DOJ grant funding for bulletproof vests for the police department. Arnold said he believes the city has the law behind them.

“We think we can demonstrate our values are consistent with requirements under the federal law and the constitution,” Arnold added.