The Justice Department says it won't give cities some law enforcement grant money unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and alert them when someone facing deportation is released from local custody.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions unrolled the new conditions Tuesday, escalating his promised crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities. Under old rules, cities seeking grant money needed only to show that they weren't prohibiting local law enforcement from communicating with immigration authorities.
Sessions wrote in a statement that “so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe” and cited incidents of human trafficking, mass murders and international crime gangs like MS-13.
“My first reaction is quit using these buzz words,” King County Sheriff John Urquhart said.
He says the new conditions will have little impact on Seattle because the city and its police do not run the jails. The county and its deputies do.
“It doesn’t mean a darn thing,” Urquhart said.
The conditions apply to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, a popular grant that goes to police for everything from bulletproof vests to body cameras.
The City of Seattle was awarded $673,166 in 2016, according to Bureau of Justice Assistance records.
“I don't think in the state of Washington there's really any Sheriff's Office that I'm aware of that gets a Byrne Grant,” Urquhart said. “It's usually local law enforcement, but typically they don't run a felony jail. It's only Sheriff's Offices that do that -- counties that do that.”
Immigration attorney Carol Edward calls the new policy “fear mongering” and predicts states will challenge it.
“The federal government is not going after undocumented criminals. They’re going after immigrants – legal or not,” Edward said, explaining some clients who are longtime green card holders are fearful.
Immigration advocates say the anxiety in immigrant communities is growing and could prevent people from going to police because of their immigration status.
“People are just very nervous about what this means. Is the administration really going to be able to do this?” Jorge Baron with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said.
King 5 News reached out to Seattle Police to ask if what the county does could impact city grant money but have not heard back yet.
Sessions unveiled the policy amid speculation about whether he will retain his job following President Donald Trump's blistering public criticism for recusing himself from the Russia probe. Sessions and Trump had bonded during the campaign, largely over shared hardline views on illegal immigration.