USA First Look

Seattle sues Trump administration over sanctuary-city threats

The city of Seattle filed a lawsuit against President Trump's administration Wednesday over an executive order that aims to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities.

The skyline of Seattle, Wash., is seen in March 2014.
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On Wednesday, the city of Seattle filed a federal lawsuit against President Trump's administration over an executive order that would strip federal funding from "sanctuary cities," which limit local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The suit claims that the policy amounts to an unconstitutional federal coercion that violates the Tenth Amendment, which helps guarantee state's rights.

Police in sanctuary cities across the country have barred officers from routinely checking on immigration status when making arrests or during traffic stops, and have also refused to extend the detention period of anyone picked by the police in order to assist federal agents seeking to deport them. The executive order would punish cities and communities that refuse to cooperate with these federal efforts to find and deport immigrants living in the US illegally, a method that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray strongly denounced.

"Once again, this new administration has decided to bully," he told reporters. "Things like grants helping us with child sex trafficking are not connected to immigration. It is time for cities to stand up and ask the courts to put an end to the anxiety in our cities and the chaos in our system."

Under the executive order, Seattle could face $10.5 million in cuts to public safety programs. The city sustains that the actions required by the Trump administration would make immigrant communities less safe by driving them underground.

"Apparently the Trump administration, their war on facts has now become a war on cities," Mr. Murray said. "Let me be clear about the facts. We are not breaking any laws and we are prioritizing safety."

Seattle is not the first sanctuary city to file a legal complaint over Mr. Trump's executive order. San Francisco became the first city to sue the Trump administration for that reason back in January, and several cities and counties have piled on the lawsuits since then. While their success is far from certain, many legal experts think that that their claims against the federal government have more than a fighting chance. As Amanda Hoover previously reported for The Christian Science Monitor:

Trump’s directives could clash with the 10th Amendment, which gives states the rights to create their own legislation in conjunction with federal laws and regulations. It also must stand up to the 1987 Supreme Court ruling South Dakota v. Dole, in which the court found that funding can be withheld only for the specific initiative in question. Experts speculate that Congress, which would have more authority than the president to block funding, will likely be unable to deny grants to a range of programs across cities.

Sanctuary city policies "have been carefully crafted with federal laws in mind," Grisel Ruiz, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, tells the Monitor. "They can definitely stand a legal challenge in court."

In addition to the possible Tenth Amendment violation, the Seattle suit also says that the coercive funding conditions violate the Constitution's Spending Clause. In a similar Spending Clause case from 2012 concerning a challenge to the Affordable Care Act over Medicaid expansion, the state's rights interpretation won out, a good sign for sanctuary cities.

The Seattle suit comes after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that sanctuary cities would not receive up to $4.1 billion in federal funds from the Justice Department.

"Such policies cannot continue," Mr. Sessions said Monday, according to NPR. "They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets."

Judge Sarah Eckhardt of Travis County, Texas, however, disagreed with the Attorney General's assessment of the threat posed by immigrants.

"There's been ample, ample studies that show that [Sessions] doesn't have a point," Judge Eckhardt told NPR. "The foreign-born don't behave in criminal ways the same way the American-born do. People who are immigrants pretty much stay out of jail."

This article contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.