Seattle sues Trump administration over threats against sanctuaries cities

President Trump is ramping up immigration raids and telling cities that refuse to help federal agents -- sanctuary cities -- that they risk the loss of millions in federal dollars

Now Seattle is striking back with a federal lawsuit against the Trump executive order.

“They cannot punish cities, and they cannot force our local police officials to be involved in federal immigration activities. That's what we are seeking from the courts,” said Mayor Ed Murray as the lawsuit was filed.

Key developments: 

  • Mayor Ed Murray said Wednesday the executive order issued in January punishing "sanctuary cities" is unconstitutional.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated this week that the Justice Department would deny grant money to cities that violate a federal law dealing with information-sharing among local police and federal authorities.
  • Murray said the federal government cannot compel the city's police department to enforce federal immigration law.
  • The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, says the executive order creates uncertainty around the city's budget.

Attorney General Sessions' tough talk is already making immigrants fearful of seeking help, said City Attorney Pete Holmes.

“In our office we have seen domestic violence cases where victims have felt that they need to step away from prosecution,” said Holmes.

According to the lawsuit, President Trump is threatening to take away $55 million in federal money for city operating expenses, $99 million for construction and equipment and $2.6 million alone in federal assistance for Seattle police.

And City's lawsuit cites a KIRO7.com report as proof Mr. Trump has threatened the city.

Candidate Trump mentioned the local 2007 murder of Rebecca Greigo by a man whose visa had expired, and who was wanted by immigration authorities.

Asked why he has been so visibly defiant when it comes to the Trump administration’s immigration plans, the mayor responded, “The intensity is because I spent time in classrooms and in this city, and I have seen how scared those kids are that their parents, their aunts and uncles or they themselves are going to be ripped out of this city.”

The city is not seeking a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction. There is no word yet on when a hearing will be scheduled.

An estimated 150,000 unauthorized immigrants live in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellevue – according to a list released by the Pew Research Center.

What to know about Trump's sanctuary cities crackdown

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January that said, in part, "Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States." Read the executive order here.

Murray revealed after the order was sign that Seattle could lose $85 million by remaining a sanctuary. The city operates on a $5 billion budget.

>> Related: Mayor: Seattle could lose $85 million by remaining a sanctuary city

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated the funding threat on Monday, announcing Justice Department grants will be withheld from sanctuary cities that do not comply with immigration laws and enforcement.

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.

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.

Murray first announced a possible lawsuit in his state of the city address

But during his state of the city address in February, Murray 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."

"To build on the actions we have taken to support Seattle immigrants and refugees, under my direction, along with City Attorney Pete Holmes, in response to the Administration's actions and rhetoric regarding immigrants and refugees, today Seattle will send a series of Freedom of Information Requests to multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security," Murray said during his state of the city address .

"The City must be able to provide accurate information to immigrants and refugees and their families living in Seattle."

"We will seek to determine the Administration's definition of "sanctuary cities" and the enforcement actions the federal government may take against us," Murray said.

"We will also seek detailed information about this Administration's changes to travel and immigration policy including the DACA program."

"We believe that the rule of law is on our side, and we will take legal action."

The mayor's office gave the Trump administration 20 days to respond to its public information requests before taking legal action.

San Francisco sued Trump over the sanctuary cities issue earlier this year, also saying his order was unconstitutional.

What about the executive order lawsuit on travel?

Seattle's legal action is not part of the case that halted the president travel ban, which barred travelers from six countries from coming into the United States.

A federal judge in Hawaii put Trump's revised travel ban on hold just hours before it was to go into effect in mid-March. More than half a dozen states, including Washington, tried to stop the ban.

>> Related: Federal judge freezes Trump's new travel ban

The Trump administration’s new travel ban aimed to withstand court challenges that halted the initial travel ban, an effort led by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Here's a quick breakdown of that case: 

  • The president's revised travel order leaves Iraq off the list of banned countries but still affects would-be visitors and immigrants from Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya
  • The first travel ban included travelers from Iran; chaos unfolded at airports as people were detained.
  • Ferguson’s lawsuit on the first travel ban asked a court to declare key provisions of the executive order unconstitutional and illegal.
  • Federal Judge James Robart in Seattle halted the ban nationwide by granting a temporary restraining order in February after Ferguson filed a lawsuit.
  • Arguments from the Washington State Attorney General's Office and the Department of Justice ensued, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Robart's ruling to keep the travel ban blocked.  
  • After the 9th Circuit decision, Trump announced that his administration would roll out a new executive order on immigration.
  • The president signed the new order; it was scheduled to go into effect on March. 16. Read the full order here. 
  • Hawaii was the first state to file a lawsuit against Trump's revised travel ban, saying the order will harm its Muslim population, tourism and foreign students. 
  • Ferguson filed documents in federal court asking Robart to confirm that his restraining order against the initial travel ban remains in place against the new travel ban. 
  • Before action came down in Seattle in mid-March, a federal judge in Hawaii put President Donald Trump's revised travel ban on hold. 

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