Seattle's Response

To Federal Immigration Policy

The below are frequently asked questions and responses to common queries related to federal immigration policy.

Questions related to Seattle's Welcoming City/Sanctuary Policies

Questions for concerned immigrants and refugees

 

Questions related to Seattle's Welcoming City Policies

We compiled this list of frequently asked questions as a response to the federal administration's anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric and policies.

  1. What does being a "Sanctuary City" mean?

    The terminology of "Sanctuary City" can often be misused, misinterpreted, or misunderstood. To emphasize the true intent of Seattle, we prefer to use the term "Welcoming City," which means all City departments prioritize and consider policies, actions, and practices that help immigrant and refugee communities succeed.

    To also be more specific regarding Seattle's municipal code related to undocumented immigrants, we prefer the terminology of "don't ask" policies.

    More information about Seattle as a Welcoming City is here.
  2. What is the City's role in immigration enforcement?

    City employees do not ask about immigration status. Passed in 2003, Seattle Ordinance 121063 instructs all City employees to refrain from inquiring about the immigration status of any person, except police officers where they have a reasonable suspicion of a felony criminal law violation or have knowledge that a person has been previously deported.
  3. Shouldn't we take care of vulnerable U.S. citizens, such as homeless people, veterans, and seniors before spending money on unauthorized/undocumented residents?

    Seattle is committed to the values of equity and inclusion, which guide us to support the most vulnerable residents in our city. This includes both implementing solutions to homelessness and support for veterans and seniors, while also standing with immigrants and refugees who are being targeted by the Trump Administration.
  4. Why not be more cooperative with federal immigration agents?

    The City does not have jurisdiction over deportations. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is charged with enforcing civil federal immigration violations, which includes deportations. Police officers within the city will ask for your status if there is reasonable suspicion a felony was committed or knowledge that a person was previously deported.

    This "don't ask" policy allows our police department to build strong relationships within immigrant and refugee communities, which makes them safer. Crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties, and economies are stronger in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties. For more information, see this report.
  5. Are you against deporting criminals, even violent felons?

    The City of Seattle does not deport immigrants, whether criminal or not. King County has jurisdiction over the jail system. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is charged with enforcing civil federal immigration violations, which includes deportation proceedings. A "detainer request" refers to the practice of detaining an individual for an additional two days after their release date in order to provide ICE agents extra time to take that individual into federal custody for potential deportation. Therefore, the City defers to King County on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests.

    In 2014, King County enacted Ordinance 17866, which states that the County will only honor ICE detainers that are accompanied by a federal judicial warrant. This ordinance was based on several federal court decisions since 2013 finding ICE in violation of Fourth Amendment rights for imprisoning people without due process and, in many cases, without any charges pending or probable cause of any violation. In these court decisions, local jurisdictions that complied with ICE detainer requests were found liable and required to pay damages.
  6. What legal grounds does the City of Seattle have to defy and ignore the federal government?

    The Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that the federal government cannot coerce local jurisdictions to adopt federal regulations as their own as President Trump's Executive Order asks police departments to do. We recommend reading this article about how U.S. Supreme Court precedent supports this assertion.
  7. Why aren't you making a distinction between legal residents and unauthorized immigrants?

    The City of Seattle makes no distinction between residents, as per our "don't ask" policy in Seattle Ordinance 121063 passed in 2003, which dictates that City employees may not inquire about immigration status.

    Both documented and unauthorized residents collectively share all costs. Unauthorized immigrants living in the United States pay billions of dollars each year in state and local taxes. They pay sales and excise taxes when they purchase goods and services (for example, on utilities, clothing, and gasoline). They pay property taxes directly on their homes or indirectly as renters. According to the bipartisan think-tank New American Economy, immigrants of any status in the Seattle Metropolitan Area paid approximately $6.5 billion in taxes. For more information, see this report.
  8. Doesn't the U.S. Constitution only apply to citizens?

    Whether or not you are a citizen, you have rights under the U.S. Constitution.
    Under the Fifth Amendment, you have the right to remain silent and not answer questions asked by a police officer or government agent. Under the First Amendment, you have the right to speak freely and advocate for social change. For more about this, see this National Lawyers Guild report. There are a few rights reserved solely for citizens, namely the right to vote and the right to run for certain elected offices.
  9. What's so wrong with keeping an undocumented immigrant detained past their jail sentence?

    Detaining a person without a federal arrest warrant, which ICE often requests local jurisdictions to do, is illegal. A number of federal courts have ruled that local jurisdictions cannot constitutionally hold someone on a detainer without a warrant or probable cause. The Fourth Amendment provides an important check on the government’s ability to arrest and detain people. Eroding that check would endanger civil liberties for everyone, including U.S. citizens. Forcing a jurisdiction to violate the Constitution – whether directly or whether by threatening to withhold much-needed financial support – is illegal.

    Threats to withhold federal funds for jurisdictions with "sanctuary" or "don't ask" policies also raise serious constitutional concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the 10th Amendment prevents the federal government from compelling states or cities to enforce federal laws. For example, the Supreme Court upheld key provisions of the Affordable Care Act in 2012, but ruled unconstitutional the provision that would have blocked federal Medicaid funding to states that did not accept expansion to cover millions more low-income and disabled people. University of Washington School of Law professor Hugh Spitzer offers this legal analysis related to this issue.
  10. Aren't there any financial penalties for not honoring ICE detainers?

    Actually, the federal courts have not only ruled that it is illegal to detain a person without a federal arrest warrant, but local jurisdictions that do so in compliance with ICE detainer requests are also liable for financial damages.
  11. Don't cities with these "don't ask" policies have higher crime rates?

    Numerous studies across the political spectrum - from the progressive Center for American Progress to the libertarian CATO Institute - have demonstrated that crime rates are lower among sanctuary counties than non-sanctuary counties. The CATO study even found that unauthorized immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than Americans born here.

    The ICE detainer requests are also bad policy because it undermines the ability of local jurisdictions to build community trust that is tantamount for public safety. Mayor Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best understand that Seattle’s shift to community policing requires the cooperation and trust of every member of the community, particularly foreign-born residents who have experienced law enforcement as repressive and corrupt institutions in their home countries. We recommend reading this American Immigration Council article about community policing.

    If local law enforcement is viewed as an arm of federal immigration enforcement efforts, that community trust is undermined and immigrant and refugee residents who may otherwise come forward to report or help solve crimes will be less willing to do so. It is the responsibility of the federal government to enforce immigration laws and the responsibility of local officials to keep their communities safe.

 

Questions for concerned immigrants and refugees

Understandably, the federal administration's executive orders relating to immigrants and refugees have caused considerable fear and uncertainty in our local communities. We have compiled this list of frequently asked questions for immigrant and refugee community members.

DISCLAIMER:
This FAQ or "Frequently Asked Questions" section contains general information, and is not legal advice. If you have questions about your particular status or use of benefits, you should speak with an immigration attorney or DOJ-accredited representative. You can find a lawyer through the American Immigration Lawyers Association here.

  1. What do I do if an immigration officer shows up at my house?

    An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent can only enter your home if they have a warrant signed by a judge. A warrant signed by an ICE staff member is not enough for an agent to enter your home.

    You can find more Know Your Rights information from the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project here.
  2. Can Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers question me at my work place?

    Yes, if your owner or manager gives permission, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer is free to ask you questions about your immigration status. However, you have the right to remain silent and talk to a lawyer before you answer any questions.
  3. I'm a parent who could be deported, and I am concerned about the rest of my family.

    It may be time to create a family safety plan. We recommend consulting an immigration advocate or immigration lawyer about the legal documents you should have prepared and signed in the event where your children can stay in the country, but you are detained and/or deported.

    Make sure all your children's important documentation and copies of this documentation are stored in a place where other family members and friends can access. Give the school an alternative emergency contact to avoid having the school calling the police if your child is not picked up.

    More information about family safety planning is here.
  4. A family member has been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). What do I do?

    To confirm whether an individual has been detained and where they are being held, you can use the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detainee Locator: locator.ice.gov/odls/homePage.do. To use this tool, you will either need the individual's A# (alien registration number) and country of birth or his or her full name and country of birth.

    Immigrants generally do not have the right to legal representation, so you can hire a private attorney if you are financially able to do so. You might also qualify for help from the Seattle/King County Immigrant Legal Defense Network.
  5. Can I visit the Northwest Detention Center?

    If you are undocumented/unauthorized or have doubts about your current immigration status, then advocates recommend that you should not visit the Northwest Detention Center or any immigrant detention facility.

    For more information about a potential visit, go here.
  6. How do I report a hate crime?

    If in process or just recently happened, call 911.

    You can also anonymously report discriminatory harassment at the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR). More information, as well as flyers in other languages, can be found here: seattle.gov/civilrights/civil-rights/anti-bias-campaign.

    You can report the incident over the phone at SOCR by calling (206) 233-7100.

    You can report the incident online by going here: seattle.gov/civilrights/file-complaint.

Banner photo credit: Alabastro Photography.