Federal attorneys in Seattle filed what may be an opening shot in a battle with the state on immigration policies and their enforcement.
On its face, the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle seems narrow. It challenges the ability of King County to ban flights involving deportations into Boeing Field, which the county operates.
An order signed last April by King County Executive Dow Constantine also bans any company at that airport from servicing planes used by federal immigration agencies to transport immigration detainees in or out of Boeing Field.
“King County doesn’t get to pick and choose which federal laws it wants to follow,” Brian Moran, U.S. attorney for Western Washington, said.
The lawsuit, which notes the federal government gave the airport to the county in 1948 with a provision that federal agencies can use it “without charge,” asks for a ruling that the county executive order is unconstitutional and invalid.
“This affects all of ICE’s operations throughout the Northwest,” said William Hyslop, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington who attended the news conference announcing the lawsuit. Planes now must fly to an airport in Yakima, with detainees then bused to the detention center in Tacoma or immigration hearings in the Seattle area. He estimated that costs the agency an extra $400,000 a year.
But the lawsuit over access to Boeing Field is just one example in what has become an ongoing fight over immigration, Hyslop said.
The Legislature is considering bills to ban private detention facilities, but the only such operation is the one operated by a private company for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Tacoma, he said. Bills to ban private detention facilities were approved by House and Senate committees but have yet to get full chamber votes.
The state attorney general filed a federal lawsuit to block federal officials from arresting undocumented immigrants in or around Washington courthouses, Hyslop added.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday the office hadn’t seen anything from the federal officials. But Ferguson’s comment when the lawsuit was filed in December still seems to apply, the spokeswoman, Brionna Aho, said.
“If immigration officials can demonstrate that their courthouse arrests only target dangerous criminals, I will drop this lawsuit,” Ferguson said. “The federal government has arrested many people who are simply trying to access justice for themselves or their families. That’s illegal, it makes us less safe and it needs to stop.”
The state also passed the “Keep Washington Working” law last year, which gives state residents certain protections regardless of immigration status and restricts state and local agencies from revealing that status to federal agencies or releasing suspects to them without signed court orders. In signing the bill, Gov. Jay Inslee also said it makes communities safer because undocumented immigrants won’t need to be afraid to come forward if they witness a crime or are victims of domestic violence.
It sounds similar to the argument Moran and Hyslop were making in announcing the lawsuit and suggesting there was more action to come. State restrictions on state and local government agencies coordinating and cooperating with federal immigration agencies mean dangerous criminals go free, they said.
“What we are talking about is illegal immigration,” Hyslop said. “We are discussing public safety.”
Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the state and Trump administration may be headed for a fight over the U.S. Constitution and its division of responsibilities.
Immigration is a federal responsibility, but it traditionally has relied on local governments for assistance, Pedersen said. When the federal immigration policy is “wildly at odds with popular sentiment” in a particular community, he added, local taxpayers could object to their money supporting it.
The federalist argument would be that if the federal government wants to enforce those laws, it can use its own resources to pay for that, Pedersen said.