Highline safe for now, congressman predicts

By Jessica Strand - Staff Reporter

Highline won't lose federal funding for refusing to provide student information to immigration officials, a congressman from the Southwest King County area said.

"From a legal standpoint [the executive order is] only targeting, as I understand it, municipalities or counties that say 'We are not going to have our law enforcement officials, No. 1: check documentation, and No. 2: comply with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) orders and turn people over,'" said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-9th District.

President Donald Trump has signed three executive orders regarding immigration laws since taking office on Jan. 20.  The first one, signed on Jan. 25, titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, specifically addressed sanctuary jurisdictions.

The order says that immigrants who come into the United States illegally, or overstay their visas are "a significant threat to national security and public safety."

The order states that immigrants with criminal convictions for any offense will be the first to be targeted for expulsion. It would affect individuals who:

• have been charged with an unresolved criminal offense

• have committed acts that are "chargeable criminal offenses" 

• have engaged in "fraud or willful misrepresentation"

• have abused any public benefits program

have not complied with a final removal order

• "otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security"

The executive order will "ensure that jurisdictions that fail to comply with applicable Federal law do not receive Federal funds, except as mandated by law," according to the order. 

Highline, which is in the 9th district, is one of several local governments and institutions that have vowed to fight the Trump Administration over how immigrants are treated.

The college currently has 2,150 immigrants (23 percent of the student body), and 700 refugees (7.5 percent) enrolled as students this quarter.  Because Highline doesn't ask about immigration status, it is imposable to say how many of those immigrants are undocumented.

Highline Acting President Dr. Jeff Wagnitz recently penned an email in response to the president's executive order against immigrants.  

Highline will not take part in enforcing immigration policy, and will require a "subpoena, court order, or other clear legal authority before releasing any student-specific data," according to Dr. Wagnitz's email.

Although the executive order specifically refers to cities, and would not immediately affect the college, the order is providing more questions than answers, Rep. Smith said.  Although the order calls for federal funding to be withheld, it is questionable as to what federal funding could be at risk.

"As I understand the law, you can only cut off funds that are somehow connected to what you're focusing on," Rep. Smith said.  "So for instance, they could argue undocumented people ride public transportation so you could cut off public transportation dollars."

Just because the executive order is specifically directed toward municipalities at this time, that could change in the future, Rep. Smith said.  The Trump Administration could target colleges, and make it difficult for students to get financial aid, he said.

"There's no end to what they could do given the fact that Trump and his closest advisers --Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon -- are rather hell-bent to get rid of as many Muslims as they can," Rep. Smith said.

Just because the executive order doesn't touch something now, doesn't mean that a new order, or amended order, won't be signed that does, he said.

The chaos that has ensued due to a separate executive order banning refugees from seven different countries has left many people confused as to what exactly to expect, Rep. Smith said.

"The immigration one [executive order] that had people with green cards being pulled off of planes in foreign countries, and 72 hours later they said 'No, no, no, we didn't mean you'," Rep. Smith said.  "There's a level of confusion attached to the chaotic way in which Trump sort of pukes out policy ideas."

Even if students are reassured that Highline will protect their privacy, people might still be frightened that things will change, and not attend college because of the unknown, he said.

There is a mixed bag of emotions from members of Congress.  

"There are a fair number of Republicans who are positively gleeful over it, just about all Democrats are horrified, there are a few Republicans who are also horrified but very few of them are willing to say or do anything to sort of take action," Rep. Smith said.  "I would say the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate are at best passively allowing this to happen, and at worst complicit in it.

"Just so we're clear, I completely and utterly oppose all of this. I think it's terrible for our country on more levels than I can count. But that's the world we're living in with this administration," he said.

Federal funds to cities are at risk of being cut at any time, Rep. Smith said.

"Theoretically the executive order is in place and now it's just a matter of various agencies cutting off the funds," he said. "All that it would take is the agency to say 'You were violating these rules, this is the amount of funds that are tagged to go to you for this purpose or that purpose that will benefit undocumented people, so therefore we're cutting it off.'"

It should take time to sort through data before cutting off federal funds, but uncertainties extend to this as well, Rep. Smith said.

"In a sensible universe, yes [it would take time], but President Trump has shown that sensible is not a word that accurately describes him," Rep. Smith said.

"It's the wild, wild west over at the White House, he said. "And … I don't think anyone can predict what they're going to do."

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