The U.S. Justice Department is suing King County to force it to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation flights to leave from Boeing Field, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced Monday.
King County announced last year that it would seek to stop ICE-chartered flights from using county-owned Boeing Field to send immigrants to their home countries or to bring others in from around the country for incarceration at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington on Monday, says the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause and federal law do not allow the county to discriminate against federal contractors or to impose obstacles to enforcing federal immigration laws.
Washington’s two U.S. Attorneys, both appointees of President Donald Trump, in a joint news conference on Monday, announced the lawsuit, describing it as one part of the federal government’s attempt to crack down on so-called sanctuary policies, in which states and localities decline to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
Two Congress members from Washington, Democratic U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith, issued a joint statement responding to the news of the lawsuit.
“This is another attack by the Trump Administration on communities that have implemented policies that uphold our values. It’s posturing that further politicizes the Department of Justice ... King County is well within its right not to be involved in federal immigration enforcement activities without valid court orders ...
“We stand ready and willing to work with anyone to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and in the meantime, our communities will not be bullied into complying with nonsensical policies that are based on xenophobic falsehoods,” the statement said in part.
Also Monday, the Justice Department sued New Jersey to block a state order there that bars law enforcement from sharing the immigration information of people in custody.
“This is one salvo in what has become an ongoing battle over immigration policy in this state,” said William Hyslop, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.
Hyslop denounced local and state movements to stop cooperation with ICE, mentioning specifically legislation to bar immigration enforcement outside county courthouses and to prohibit private detention facilities, like the one ICE operates.
Since taking office, Trump has sought to limit the ability of cities and states to enact “sanctuary” policies. In 2017, his administration said such cities, including Seattle, would lose federal grant money unless they cooperated with immigration authorities. Courts blocked that effort and Seattle and other cities received the grant money.
King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an executive order in April banning immigration flights from Boeing Field after a University of Washington study found that 34,000 people had been deported from the airport in a period of eight years. Within a week, charter companies that operated the flights told the county they would stop flying them for ICE.
The county, at the time, said it expected lawsuits.
Constantine said on Monday he looked forward to the county’s day in court and that Trump and Barr were “bullying King County for being a welcoming community.”
“Our ordinances rightly require that King County facilitate immigration enforcement directives only when accompanied by a valid court order,” he said. “Mass deportations raise deeply troubling human rights concerns, including separation of families, racial disproportionality in policing, and constitutional issues of due process.”
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a former U.S. Attorney, said she was confident the lawsuit would fail.
“We will continue to work collaboratively with our local and federal partners,” Durkan said, “and hope that the political appointees in Washington realize political stunts do not actually advance public safety.”
County and federal officials have said they believe King County is the only jurisdiction in the country to ban flights carried out for ICE.
Since the ban went into effect, immigrants detained by ICE have been bused to and from an airport in Yakima, either for deportation or for processing or incarceration at the privately run detention center in Tacoma.
When the federal government gave the land for Boeing Field to the county, it stipulated that federal aircraft be allowed to use the airport. John Parrott, the airport’s director, said the county believed the executive order would not violate the stipulation because ICE doesn’t directly operate deportation flights, relying on charters instead.
But on Monday, the Justice Department said federal law bars local governments from restricting particular types of air travel, and pointed directly at Constantine.
“Dow Constantine intentionally and unlawfully interfered with the federal government’s duty to enforce our immigration laws,” said Brian Moran, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.