King County has once again drawn the attention of the Trump administration following a memo by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice (DOJ) that was issued last week.
The memo threatened to cut millions of dollars of federal grant funding if the county continued to refuse to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
A 2009 King County ordinance limits county officials from questioning people on their immigration status, including law enforcement officers.
This stems from a 2002 change in federal organization, which saw immigration enforcement move to the Department of Homeland Security and ICE.
Funding from the federal government that could be in jeopardy includes $1 million that helps fund the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, and some $1.15 that goes to the county prosecutor’s office for firearms cases.
The memo was sent to 23 jurisdictions and demands documents that “could show whether each jurisdiction is unlawfully restricting informations sharing by its law enforcement officers with federal immigration authorities.” The memo also threatened a subpoena against the entities, which included cities and counties across the country.
Kathy Lambert serves on the King County Council representing District 3, which encompasses Redmond.
Lambert said she doesn’t fully support the county’s position.
“I think it’s important for all residents of King County to feel safe in calling for help from the sheriff’s office or any other government agency,” she said.
However, once a person has been convicted of a felony, Lambert said the county should notify ICE of the person’s immigration status.
“If you’re going to commit serious crimes then I think it’s time to consider going back to your own country,” she said.
Lambert said the county should strike a balance between protecting immigrants while also keeping communities safe from felons.
However, she said she is not expecting movement from the council on the issue since she believes the majority of the council disagrees with her position.
One of the major expenses in the criminal justice system comes from medical costs associated with inmates.
“It’s time for a conversation about this, people’s taxes are going up, up and up and here is one area that we’re choosing as a county to pay for these costs and maybe we want to say no, we don’t want to pay for this anymore,” she said.
Both the county and Washington state have opposed various decisions by the Trump administration.
According to the Seattle Weekly, King County does not allow federal immigration agents to talk with people in a detention facility or jail without a warrant, and does not ask immigration status.
Sessions has issued similar memos in the past, including last summer.
This prompted King County Executive Dow Constantine to issue a statement where he made the case that the county was in compliance with federal law.
A new federal requirement mandated that state and local governments communicate with state and federal agencies.
Constantine argued that since the county does not ask for immigration status, they are in compliance.
The Reporter contacted county Executive Dow Constantine’s office for comment and was directed to a short letter issued in response.
“The Department of Justice has ramped up its campaign of intimidation, threatening local officials who follow the law and protect local residents,” the release said. “To be clear, we comply with the requirements for federal public safety grants. The Department of Justice’s reckless actions threaten the safety of our communities. Just as we always follow the law, King County will always be a safe, welcoming place for all people.”
County council member Joe McDermott, who the DOJ letter was addressed to, did not return a request for comment by the time of publication.