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Is King County violating law barring ICE from Boeing Field?

Boeing Field in June 2019. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The federal government is suing King County for banning Immigration and Customs Enforcement from using Boeing Field. But is the county actually violating the law, or does it have a compelling defense?

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“I think the federal complaint makes a pretty strong case that (King County) is [breaking the law],” former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

McKenna details three separate aspects of the federal government’s case against King County. He first cites something known as the “supremacy clause,” that outlines how federal law supersedes local regulations when the two are in conflict.

Second, the case cites aviation provisions that prohibit the county from limiting federal access to the airport. And finally, McKenna points out that a 72-year-old agreement between the county and federal government provides “unfettered access” to Boeing Field.

“Those are three independent reasons to find that what King County has done here is is illegal,” he said.

On the other side of the lawsuit, King County argues that it has complete control over the airport, which McKenna points out is substantively true. It says it’s not explicitly required to partner or collaborate with ICE in any way.

The flight ban at Boeing Field enacted by King County went into effect last spring, when Executive Dow Constantine signed an order to renegotiate leases on land used by flight operators. The order dictated that no services could be provided for deporting immigration detainees in any future leases at the airfield.

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That prompted ICE to use an airport in Yakima. The move has resulted in additional costs to drive detainees an extra 150 miles to the other airport.

U.S. Attorney William D. Hyslop explained in a news conference on Monday that the detainees being transported have been deemed a risk to the community’s safety or have been previously deported.

“What we are talking about is illegal immigration, which is prohibited by federal law,” Hyslop said.

According to a report by the Center for Human Rights at the University of Washington, ICE deported 34,000 people out of Boeing Field from 2010-2018, with an average of 360 flights per month.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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