AG Jeff Sessions calls for end to 'sanctuary cities'

The Trump administration is putting sanctuary cities on notice--once again--to comply or risk losing federal funding. City leaders are still trying to figure out what the threats really mean.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for an end of  "sanctuary cities," saying municipalities that allow such policies could lose out on federal funds.

"Such policies make their cities and states less safe," Sessions said Monday at a White House press briefing. "Public safety as well as national security are at stake and put them at risk of losing federal dollars."

The comments reaffirm what is stated in the president's immigration enforcement executive order signed in late January.

However, AG Sessions specified this week that the funding at risk would be Department of Justice grants, through the Office of Justice Programs and Community Oriented Policing. 

Related: Information on COPS grants and local awards

Sessions also said that receiving funds would depend on compliance with U.S.C. Section 1373, a policy that took effect under the Obama administration. 

"DOJ will also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction that willfully violates 1373," the Attorney General said Monday.

The federal code mentioned requires local jurisdictions to share citizenship or immigration status information with federal authorities, if requested. 

However, so-called sanctuary cities, such as Seattle, don't ask about immigration status, as policy. Therefore it's unclear how compliance would be determined. 

“We aren’t collecting the information. The courts have said we don’t have to collect the information," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said.  

“We don’t have anything to communicate with them," Murray said, talking about the federal code.

Murray says a group of mayors are pushing for additional clarity to learn more about how the Trump administration plans to identify sanctuary cities at risk of losing funding.

The city of Seattle receives an estimated $10 million in total federal law enforcement funding, according to the Mayor's Office. 

“We will continue to push for that clarity, and we will keep our options open, legally," Murray said. "We believe that under the rule of law, which clearly says that cities do not have to cooperate with ICE, that they are the ones we may have to end up taking to court."

As part of the policy, local police officers do not inquire or report the immigration status of criminal suspects or victims, nor do area jails comply with ICE detainer requests, unless accompanied by a warrant signed by a Judge.

“Just like the original executive order targeting so-called ‘sanctuary cities,’ today’s press statements in D.C. provided little if any legal clarity to guide otherwise law abiding Welcoming Cities like Seattle,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement Monday.

Holmes said his office continues to work alongside the Mayor’s to “explore all avenues to protect Seattle’s interests and values.” 

Seattle is one of more than a dozen cities and counties in Washington State identified as sanctuary cities, an unofficial term, used to describe local governments that are more lenient in how they comply with federal immigration laws.

"All of the policies or practices the state has adopted are and will continue to be consistent with federal law," said a spokesman for Governor Jay Inslee. "The governor has been clear that Washington will continue to be a place where all are welcome despite what country they come from, language they speak or religion they practice."

Local leaders react

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

“Attorney General Jeff Session’s latest threat does not change our position, As I’ve said, I’m willing to risk losing every penny of federal funding to stand by our commitment to protect everyone in our community. Attorney General Sessions’ threat to claw back federal funding only strengthens our resolve to fight back. We will keep all our Welcoming Cities policies in place. Attorney General Sessions accused Welcoming Cities like Seattle of harming their respective communities. However, we are helping those in our community by assisting residents on the path to citizenship and warmly integrating immigrant schoolchildren into our classrooms. But the federal government is intent on driving people underground. 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. Research shows cities with larger foreign-born populations experience less violent crime. Bigotry, not safety, seems to be at the heart of the White House immigration policy.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes

“Just like the original executive order targeting so-called ‘sanctuary cities,’ today’s press statements in D.C. provided little if any legal clarity to guide otherwise law abiding Welcoming Cities like Seattle. The Attorney General’s comments appear to be little more than cynical attempts to talk about anything other than Trumpcare or Russia following a bad week for the Trump administration. At the same time, Seattle should know that my office and the Mayor’s Office have been working ever since President Trump’s ‘sanctuary cities’ order was signed to explore all avenues to protect Seattle’s interests, and most of all its values. The City will not be bullied into abandoning its principles. Stay tuned.”

County Executive Dow Constantine

"The White House continues to use fear to try to divide us. Their intent is clear, but the legal authority is not. If this is about complying with federal law, King County should continue to receive federal funds for important criminal justice programs.

"If this is about coercing a local jurisdiction to imprison people without judicial process then no, we will not be bullied -- we will continue to honor the Constitution, rather than the extrajudicial orders of any person, including the President. That may or may not put some Department of Justice funding to communities like ours at risk. If this order is a precursor to an attempt to withhold other federal funds, the White House will face legal challenges. Case law restricts the federal government’s ability to place extraneous conditions on spending and grants for state and local governments."

Related: King County funding breakdown


KING 5's Liza Javier contributed to this report.

© 2017 KING-TV


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