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Seattle leaders defend sanctuary city status

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave sanctuary cities like Seattle until Friday to make the case they're following the law - or risk losing federal money.

King County and Seattle leaders are again defending their sanctuary city status, in response to a new letter by the Department of Justice that calls into question the region’s policy.

The DOJ sent letters to 29 cities last month, requiring a response by December 8, to address specific policies that may be in violation of federal immigration law, according to the letter.

City of Seattle response

King County response

“Seattle will not be bullied,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan during a news conference Friday. “We will demand that constitution and laws are followed."

The DOJ has threatened withholding federal grant money for cities found to be in violation; the risk for Seattle is around $600,000 in federal public safety money.

“We are in compliance with federal immigration laws,” said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.

“It is wrong for the Trump administration to threaten to take away grant funding, ironically grant funding that goes to public safety while simultaneously claiming sanctuary cities threaten public safety,” Holmes continued.

The DOJ has been assessing cities individually. However, no 2017 federal money has been withheld, at this point, because of a nationwide injunction granted by a federal judge in Chicago.

The City of Seattle filed its own separate suit earlier this year, in response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on sanctuary cities.

"Jurisdictions that adopt so-called sanctuary policies also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and the rule of law,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement.

“Our city is a welcoming city and all policies we have do not impede public safety one bit,” said Mayor Durkan.

Instead, local leaders and law enforcement officials worry that fear among the immigrant community will prevent them from speaking out as witnesses or victims of crime.

“When I hear stories about people who have refused to come to the police department to report acts of domestic violence, that is not promoting public safety,” said Seattle Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, who chairs the public safety committee.

As the battle over sanctuary cities rages on in cities and courts, the separate issue over a DACA fix for the young immigrants known as Dreamers remains on the minds of immigration advocates and lawmakers.

Paul Quinonez of the Washington DREAM Coalition says he and the hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers are pushing for a solution by Christmas.

“That's the promise that Democrats are making, and that's what we're pushing for,” said Quinonez. “We're saying our community can't plan for the next year if we don't even know if our future holds.”

The issue could get folded into ongoing budget negotiations.

“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, this week.