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.
Since the ban went into effect, immigrants detained by ICE have been bused to and from the Yakima airport, either for deportation or to and from the privately run 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.
“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 such as the one ICE operates.
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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
County and federal officials have said they believe King County is the only jurisdiction in the country to ban flights carried out for ICE.
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, federal officials argued otherwise, pointing 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.