Responding to an executive order by President Donald Trump Wednesday, immigration activists, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murray said they would not accede to federal efforts to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities” across the United States.
Murray said that the language surrounding expanded federal police authority in Trump’s executive order was “chilling” and that he was “prepared to lose every penny” of federal funding for the city of Seattle to protect the civil rights of undocumented residents.
“We’re talking about tactics that this country has never seen before,” Murray said regarding language that gives broad leeway to police to detain individuals. “I am not willing to compromise on those items.”
Murray told citizens and media gathered outside of City Hall that “a couple hours” were not enough to know what specific actions the city would be forced to take in response to Trump’s order, but said he would be directing city departments to reduce their budgets in anticipation of disappearing federal funding.
Additionally, City Attorney Pete Holmes promised that his staff would be “digging in to understand what is afoot” regarding potential violations to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to be found in Trump’s order.
Trump campaigned, and promised in his post-election plan for his first 100 days in office, to withdraw federal funding from cities that limited their cooperation with federal immigration authorities for the purpose of protecting people living in the country illegally.
The colloquial sanctuary city definition applies to greater King County and Seattle, where city employees are generally prohibited from asking about residents’ immigration status as a matter of policy.
Following the 2016 presidential election, Murray signed an executive order on Thanksgiving day reaffirming the city’s policies to limit its involvement in matters of immigration enforcement.
The order additionally established an “Inclusive and Equitable City Cabinet” to protect the civil liberties and rights of residents, and direct the investment of $250,000 to benefit the families of unauthorized immigrant students in Seattle Public Schools. Membership of the cabinet included the Seattle Police Department, the Office of Civil Rights, Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, the Department of Neighborhoods and eight additional branches of the city government.
The city of Seattle’s budget is roughly $5 billion, a relatively small $75 million of which comes from the federal government. The Seattle Police Department, which receives $10 million in federal funding, will likely be hardest hit by the removal of federal funding, Murray said.
Federal funding helps pay for several police programs, including the department’s human trafficking task force, efforts to police internet crimes against children, crime prevention coordinators, hiring and programs helping female prisoners reintegrate into society.
“These are very, very important projects,” Chief Kathleen O’Toole said. “We will not only work with the mayor, but our colleagues nationally to make sure those projects are not jeopardized.”
O’Toole said, after attending the 85th winter meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors last week, that she believed she and police chiefs in major cities across the United States were aligned in their belief that local involvement in federal immigration enforcement should be limited.
“The relationship with our community, including the undocumented, is too important to us,” she said.
City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez drew parallels between the political temperament toward immigrants in the current presidential administration to the height of the English-only movement during her childhood as a member of a bilingual Latino family in the Yakima Valley.
“These orders do not keep us safe,” Gonzalez said. “Today’s executive orders represent prejudice.”
Jorge Baron of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said it was vital for Seattle Latinos to stand with Muslims — another group named by Trump in anti-immigrant sentiments on the campaign trail, and a group he has promised to track through a national registry — against civil rights violations.
“This is part of the sad history of the United States and … there is this false choice that’s trying to be presented to us right now,” Baron said. “A false choice between security and being a diverse and inclusive society. All of us here reject that choice. Safety is not a counterpoint to being inclusive.”
King County Council Chair Joe McDermott told Brandon Macz of City Living Seattle partner publication the Capitol Hill Times that it, too, would stick to its values and oppose Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.
“Our value is to remain a safe place for all immigrants and refugees,” he said.
King County committed last year to creating a new Office of Refugees and Immigrants, McDermott said. Prior to that, in 2009, the County Council passed a mandate that government services be made available to all immigrants, regardless of legal status.
McDermott said the impact of the president’s executive action is still being assessed, as well as any potential legal action the county might take.
“Part of it is having to wait to see what happens with implementation,” he said, "when we learn more specifics about what (Trump) intends.”