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SPD Chief: Policies on immigration status won’t change

Seattle's police chief says the policies of the Seattle Police Department regarding immigration status will not change. (KIRO 7 image)

By Casey McNerthney, KIRO 7, and Gene Johnson, The Associated Press

The policies of the Seattle Police Department regarding immigration status will not change, Chief Kathleen O’Toole said in a written statement Tuesday.

“Complainants, witnesses and victims are encouraged to communicate with Seattle Police officers without fear of inquiry regarding their immigration status,” O’Toole wrote.

The chief said she’s heard from concerned community members fearful of SPD policies and said she and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray remain “committed to values of equality, inclusion and openness.”

King County Sheriff John Urquhart also said his deputies “don’t want anybody to be afraid to talk to us.”

The comments come two days after President-elect Donald Trump said he wants to deport illegal immigrants who are criminals.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said on ’60 Minutes.”

Trump references Seattle shooting case 

During the campaign, Trump said on KIRO Radio that “sanctuary cities are out,” and during another campaign stop said those “that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.”

Trump has blamed sanctuary city policies for “so many needless deaths.” In the days since his election, Trump has specified his language to illegal immigrants who have criminal records.

Trump said he’ll do away with sanctuary cities, where illegal immigrants have protections.

Seattle law forbids Seattle police or city employees from inquiring about immigration status, unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion that person is here illegally after being deported and is committing or has committed a felony.

On Dori Monson’s KIRO Radio show, Trump referenced the 2007 shooting death of Rebecca Griego on the University of Washington campus.

Griego was killed by her ex-boyfriend who was stopped before the shooting by Seattle police. Because of city law, the Seattle officers could not ask about his immigration status during the traffic stop and he was not arrested.

Another example for supporters of a crackdown on sanctuary cities is the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle last year on a San Francisco pier. A man who had been previously deported and had been released by local law enforcement was charged in her death.

Presidential sway over sanctuary cities

Could Trump eliminate sanctuary cities?

He can support efforts against them, and that would be a change. But the president does not have executive power to dictate anything to local or state government regarding sanctuary cities — or for that matter any other local issue — George Lovell, department chair of the University of Washington’s political science department, told KIRO 7 during the campaign.

However, as president Trump could enlist legislative help to try and cut off federal funding for local police issues. There have been Republican efforts through bills to withhold some federal funding from sanctuary cities.

The latest bill died earlier this summer. President Obama said he’d veto similar bills.

Defining sanctuary cities

There is no legal definition of the term, which is opposed by some immigration advocates who say it does not reflect that people can still be deported.

It generally refers to jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That can mean, for example, that they don’t notify immigration officials when an undocumented immigrant is about to be released from custody.

Some cities, like San Francisco, have long declared themselves safe havens for immigrants, issuing local ID cards to allow them to access government or other services.

The term also been used to refer to cities that bar their employees, including police, from inquiring about a person’s immigration status because crime victims and witnesses might be less likely to talk to investigators if they are worried about being deported.

Questions of funding

Because states and cities can’t be required to enforce federal law — and there’s no U.S. requirement that police ask about a person’s immigration status — it’s likely that any Trump effort to crack down on sanctuary cities would focus on those that refuse to comply with ICE requests, said Roy Beck, chief executive of NumbersUSA, which wants to see immigration levels reduced.

It’s also unclear what money Trump might pull. For Congress to impose conditions on federal money heading to the states, the conditions must be related to the funding’s purpose, the U.S. Supreme Court has said.

For example, the government threatened to withhold highway funds from any state that failed to adopt a 0.08 blood-alcohol limit: Both the limit and the highway funding were related to road safety.

“If the funding is for improving childhood education, it’s hard to say that’s reasonably related to local law-enforcement cooperation with deportations,” said Mary Fan, a University of Washington law school professor.

However, the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general looked at some jurisdictions with sanctuary policies earlier this year and concluded some appear to violate a federal law that says state and local governments may not prohibit or restrict workers from sharing information about a person’s immigration status with federal immigration officials.

Having such policies could jeopardize millions of dollars in DOJ grant money the jurisdictions receive, the inspector general’s memo said.

About 300 jurisdictions nationwide have sanctuary-like policies, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, which calls for lower immigration levels.

“The result is people who should be deported, who have come to the attention of police because of crime, are released back into the community,” said Jessica Vaughan, the group’s director of policy studies.

Immigrant advocates say they are worried Trump’s plans will wind up deporting more than violent criminals and they are gearing up for a fight.

Some are waiting to see what Trump does next.

“After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that you’re talking about who are terrific people, they’re terrific people but we are gonna make a determination at that,” Trump told ’60 Minutes’ correspondent Leslie Stahl, who asked about his pledge to deport illegal immigrants.

“But before we make that determination, Lesley, it’s very important, we want to secure our border.”

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