Skip to main content

DOJ to local police: Assist immigration agents or lose grants

caption: Auburn police talk with immigrant children from the Marshall Islands.
Enlarge Icon
Auburn police talk with immigrant children from the Marshall Islands.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

State and local governments in Washington receive millions in federal police grants. This week, the Justice Department said some of these future grants are contingent on immigration enforcement. It’s the administration’s latest swing at so-called sanctuary cities.

This law enforcement money in question is called a Byrne JAG grant. More than $5 million came to Washington state last year. It paid for body cameras in Grant County, police dogs in Marysville (technically, a "Canine Force Multiplier" program), and crime prevention in Seattle, among other things.

In King County, Sheriff John Urquhart sees this latest threat to the grants as part of a pattern.

Urquhart: "It’s a continuation of what President Trump and AG Sessions have been doing — essentially trying to browbeat local authorities into helping enforce immigration laws."

Urquhart says that’s a job for the feds.

But this week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid out specific ways local authorities must assist or lose out on this money.

Sessions says from now on, the funding will only go to places that give immigration agents access to jails, and alert them when someone without legal status will be released. He says this compliance is needed for public safely.

Sheriff Urquhart said this approach is firmly at odds with King County’s.

Urquhart: "Because everything we do is trying to reassure the public – documented and undocumented – that they have no fear in calling the local authorities. Calling 911 in other words."

In a joint statement, Seattle and King County officials denounced the new grant requirements and reiterated their policies to stay out of immigration enforcement.

Beyond King County, officials are reviewing how changes in the grant policies affect them.

Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, said his office is "fully in compliance with the attorney general's requirements." In 2016, Kitsap was awarded a Byrne grant of $38,053 to help pay for firearms.

Shari Ireton, spokeswoman for Snohomish County, said they are also in compliance.

"We do provide notice if ICE has provided us with a legal document signed by a judge that allows the process of removal to begin," Ireton wrote in an email to KUOW.

In 2016, Snohomish County was awarded a Byrne grant of $33,654 for law enforcement technology and equipment.

The largest grant amount in Washington state last year was a combined award to Seattle and King County for $673,166.

Why you can trust KUOW