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Update: Seattle Council restores $12M in grants, rejects money from ICE

A woman stands on the second floor bridge inside Seattle City Hall in Seattle, May 15, 2017. (Photo by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Update: Dec. 19 at 1:20 p.m.

After failing to win enough votes to approve $12 million in outside federal grants on Monday, the Seattle City Council tried again on Wednesday, this time succeeding.

The council called a special full-council meeting for Wednesday, with three council members participating by phone. The Council first voted 8-0 to reject a $90,000 reimbursement grant from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Seattle Police Department for “overtime associated with conducting investigations related to narcotics, money and other contraband at ports and borders.” Once that grant was stripped from the larger package, the council approved the rest of the more than 40 grants. 

The original story is below. 

Original story, posted Monday, Dec. 17: 

In a move that grew out of national tensions around immigration, the Seattle City Council has — at least for the moment — rejected more than $12 million in outside federal grant funding for everything from support for minority-owned businesses to hazardous-material training for Seattle firefighters.

The vote Monday was the result of two council members’ opposition to a $90,000 reimbursement grant from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that was included as part of the whole package.

The final vote to adopt the package was 4-2 in favor. But with three council members absent and two "no" votes from council members Lorena González and Lisa Herbold, the funding acceptance fell short of the five-vote majority it needed.

The rejection of the grant funds seemed to surprise everyone present, even those who opposed the ICE grant.

Now, council President Bruce Harrell must scramble to call an additional full-council meeting before the end of 2018 or risk its checks to various departments bouncing.

Under most circumstances, Monday’s vote would have been a technical proceeding — as reflected in the bare majority of council members still in City Hall before the holidays.

But Councilmember González, a fierce proponent of immigrants and defender of Seattle’s status as a sanctuary city, locked on to the $90,000 from ICE. The grant was intended to reimburse the Seattle Police Department for “overtime associated with conducting investigations related to narcotics, money and other contraband at ports and borders” and not directly related to immigration enforcement.

Still, González, herself the daughter of immigrants, said, “I feel really strongly I can’t vote in favor of accepting a grant from ICE, which is the overarching agency that does engage in immigration enforcement that leads to the incarceration and detention and inhumane practice of separating families in our country.”

On a normal day, González’s opposition would probably not have sunk the entire package; a full council likely would have provided the five votes. But with council members Debora Juarez, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda absent and Herbold joining González, the grants fell short and the council was left unsure of what to do next.

Harrell said he was “blindsided a bit.” 

Even González said she assumed her vote would not spike the whole bill. “I did not intend to derail today’s committee hearing in this fashion,” she said.

Initially, the council sought to reconsider the package, amended to strip out the $90,000 from ICE. The problem, however, was that rules dictate the council cannot reject, revive, then pass a bill all in the same meeting. They must wait until the next full-council meeting to reconsider.

That next meeting is Jan. 7, when Harrell figured the council could return to the grant funding. But Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she was receiving an “SOS” from the City Budget Office, “saying this has to be passed by Dec. 31 of this year.”

At issue is that many of the grants are reimbursements for money the council promised to provide during 2018 — and which the departments may have already spent. If the process bleeds into 2019, the city is potentially exposed to some legal risk.  

That means the task is to persuade enough council members to show up and vote between now and 2019. González was not inclined to change her tune on the ICE grant, but it’s possible a majority could agree to reject the $90,000 to save the remaining $12 million.

However, in a real-time calendar check from the council members' seats in City Hall, it became clear getting everyone together again was not likely to be easy with the holidays coming up.

With Seattle operating as a sanctuary city, city employees are advised to not ask about immigration status or cooperate in any way with ICE to help them with immigration enforcement. However, the boundaries are a little fuzzier when it comes to cooperating with ICE on issues that are not directly related to immigration enforcement. For example, as Crosscut reported earlier this year, Seattle City Light provided customer information to ICE on at least three separate occasions to aid the agency in drug-related investigations. 

In early 2018, Mayor Jenny Durkan introduced new protocols for handling requests from ICE, routing every inquiry for “access to nonpublic areas in city buildings and venues” and “actions seeking data or information (written or oral) about city employees, residents or workers” through her office’s legal counsel.

Harrell said he will check in with individual council members over the coming days and announce when the council may meet again to reconsider the grants.

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Update: Seattle Council restores $12M in grants, rejects money from ICE