Justice department sues King County over ban at Boeing Field

SEATTLE -- The U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit Monday against King County seeking to overturn the county's ban on all immigration deportation flights at Boeing Field in Seattle.

“Counties don't have any role in immigration law,” U.S. Attorney Brian Moran said during a press conference.

After King County Executive Dow Constantine directed the airport to change its practices last year, immigration officials were forced to transport detainees to and from the Yakima airport via bus, which placed the detainees and ICE agents at risk. Yakima is about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of Seattle.

Constantine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Boeing Field, owned and operated by the county, is just south of downtown Seattle. Aerospace giant Boeing has facilities at the airport and there are some commercial flights as well.

In announcing the change in policy in April 2019, Constantine said “"we are a welcoming community that respects the rights of all people.

“We do not want to see our publicly owned airport used for the wholesale deportation of immigrant detainees,” Constantine said when he announced the change.

Moran said that change violated the agreement the county signed to gain ownership of the airport, in addition to violating the law.

“King County doesn’t get to pick and choose which federal laws it wants to follow,” Moran said. “The federal government transferred Boeing Field to the County in 1948 – and the agreement states that the federal government retains the right to use the field at no cost."

U.S. Attorney Bill Hyslop of the Eastern District of Washington said the people who were apprehended pose a risk to the safety of the community or have returned “time and time again” and are here illegally.

“We don’t refuse to send a criminal defendant to another state to face charges – neither should we fail to return illegal aliens to their country of origin if they have committed crimes that make them inadmissible to the United States and a danger to our communities," Hyslop said.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle seeks a declaration invalidating and permanently stopping the enforcement of the Boeing Field policy. The suit said it violates the Airline Deregulation Act and the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution "by obstructing and burdening federal activities.