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Seattle Sues Trump Administration Over 'Sanctuary City' Threat

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says his city filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its move to pull federal funds over immigration law enforcement.
Elaine Thompson

Saying that Attorney General Jeff Sessions' threat to strip billions in federal grant money from so-called "sanctuary cities" is illegal and unconstitutional, the city of Seattle has sued President Trump and his administration, in a lawsuit that names Trump, Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

"We are not breaking any laws and we are prioritizing safety," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said, according to member station KUOW. "Bullying and misstating the facts will not stand in the way of how the real laws of this country are enforced."

On Monday, Sessions said the Justice Department plans to withhold up to $4.1 billion from "sanctuary cities" — a blanket term for many areas that refuse immigration agents' requests to detain immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency deems at least 118 jurisdictions as sanctuaries.

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

Seattle is asking a federal court to declare that it's not breaking the law by refusing to join the Trump administration's effort to strictly enforce federal immigration laws.

In its lawsuit, Seattle is also asking a judge to rule on whether the executive branch is in breach of the 10th Amendment, which limits the government's power to commandeer state entities to enforce federal regulations. And the city says the Trump administration is violating the Constitution's Spending Clause by placing coercive conditions on the funding.

States' rights in how the Spending Clause is interpreted were recently affirmed, due to the Supreme Court's ruling on a challenge to the Affordable Care Act over Medicaid expansion in 2012. From an article in the Yale Law Journal: "Scholars have generally suggested that NFIB v. Sebelius shifted power to states and away from agencies in the grant relationship."

Along with Murray in Seattle, other officials in sanctuary cities and counties also say that despite the claims made in Trump's Executive Order No. 13768, sanctuary cities haven't seen a rise in crime or deaths due to their approach to immigration policy.

Murray's opinion is shared by Travis County (Texas) Judge Sarah Eckhardt, whose jurisdiction includes Austin. Here's what Eckhardt told NPR's Morning Edition this week:

"There's been ample, ample studies that show that [Sessions] doesn't have a point. 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. We have a very safe community in Travis County. You know, of course we're a border state, and we've always been Mexican and American. And we have an enviable crime rate. We have the lowest crime rate of any major metropolitan in Texas.

"And I think that is because of our relationship with our community. They feel safe. They feel willing to come forward and hold perpetrators of crime accountable irrespective of where the victim was born or where the perpetrator was born."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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