Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Jun 29 2017

Ferguson, 10 other attorneys general, file briefs supporting cities and counties fighting Administration

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson has joined nine states and the District of Columbia in urging a federal judge to deny the Trump Administration’s request to dismiss three California cases challenging its executive order threatening “sanctuary jurisdictions.”

Ferguson argues that the administration should not force local law enforcement to help it carry out federal immigration policy at the expense of efforts to promote public safety in their own communities.

The President issued the executive order in January, threatening federal grant money for localities that the government classifies as “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The executive order failed to provide a clear definition of “sanctuary jurisdictions.” The briefs were filed in support of lawsuits filed by the city and county of San Francisco, Santa Clara County and the City of Richmond challenging the President’s order as unconstitutional and unlawful.

U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick granted a preliminary injunction in April, blocking implementation of the enforcement provisions of the order until the lawsuits can be heard before the court. In issuing the injunction, Judge Orrick found that the California jurisdictions were likely to prevail in their challenge.

Before Judge Orrick issued the injunction, the City of Seattle was among several others nationwide to file a similar suits. On June 26, the City of Portland joined Seattle’s challenge to the executive order. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

In May, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memorandum attempting to narrow the scope of the executive order. Sessions limited the definition of “sanctuary jurisdictions” to localities that “willfully refuse to comply” with federal law. He also stated that only grants administered by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security would be in jeopardy for designated jurisdictions.

The administration has not appealed Judge Orrick’s injunction. Instead, it has asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuits altogether, based largely upon the Sessions memo.

“Not one word of the executive order has changed since the court issued the injunction, regardless of Attorney General Sessions’ attempts at clarification,” Ferguson said. “President Trump’s executive order is an unconstitutional attempt to usurp local control of law enforcement.”

The brief argues that public safety is enhanced when all residents feel safe reporting crimes to law enforcement.

“Lawful policies that avoid entanglement between local police departments and the enforcement of federal immigration laws can improve public safety — allowing local agencies to focus their limited resources on fighting serious and violent crimes, and encouraging greater cooperation with law enforcement by immigrants and their family members,” the attorneys general argue in amici (friend of the court) briefs filed late Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The brief also argues that, regardless of Sessions’ memo, the executive order places ambiguous, inappropriate conditions on billions of dollars of federal grant funding. Due to those conditions, the states agree with Judge Orrick’s injunction ruling that the executive order is unconstitutionally coercive.

“The threat of losing that funding can have a profoundly coercive effect on the actions of state and local governments — especially when the funds support critical or urgent programs, such as disaster response efforts,” the attorneys general argue. 

In April, Ferguson released extensive guidance for local governments on protecting the rights of all Washington residents, and the limits of federal immigration authority. The guidance addresses local law enforcement, jails, public hospitals, schools and employers, as well as interactions between local jurisdictions and federal authorities.

Ferguson also issued a joint report with five other attorneys general in May debunking the Trump Administration’s legal and public safety claims against cities and towns that choose to limit their participation in the most aggressive forms of federal immigration enforcement. The report was prompted by inaccurate information published by the federal government in weekly reports mandated by the executive order.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Interim Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov