Justice Department sends warning letter to Seattle and other sanctuary cities

Seattle and King County leaders are preparing for a fight after the U.S. Department of Justice sent letters to both governments Wednesday, warning their willingness to provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants could cost the region federal funds.

The city and county got the letter along with 29 cities, counties, and states.

Local officials say they see it as a threat.

“We’re prepared to make a vigorous defense,” said Joe McDermott, chair of the King County Council. “They’re trying to use to bully and intimidate people in King County and I won’t stand for it,” he said.

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It's the latest move from the Trump administration to crack down on illegal immigration.

Seattle and King County have made no secret that officers here do not ask about someone’s immigration status, so no one will fear reporting a crime.

But the Trump administration has a problem with that. The letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ office cites three King County and two Seattle policies, warning, “the Department is concerned that this appears to restrict the requesting of immigration information in violation of section 1373.”

Complying with that law is required to get a grant – the Byrne JAG grant - that primarily goes towards local law enforcement.

In Seattle, the grant funds the Police Department's civilian crime prevention specialists.

In a statement Wednesday Mayor Tim Burgess said, “It's ironic that a president who says he wants to reduce crime and help crime victims, works to remove funding from programs that do exactly that.”

And King County emphasizes it is following the law.

“They’ve been threatening us all year, and the facts haven’t changed. King County complies with USU.S. code,” McDermott said. “If it comes down to it, we don’t need their money.”

The letter demands a response from King County and Seattle by December 8, 2017. But Seattle’s Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan is already taking a stand.

“Our city will fight Trump every step of the way against these illegal attempts to withhold funds. I'll say it again: Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, keep your hands off Seattle,” she said in a statement.

King County says it's still crunching numbers to figure out how much money is on the line. Its initial numbers estimates it’s about $650,000 so far.