Washington, DC - Monday, the Justice Department filed suit against King County, Washington, and King County Executive Dow Constantine challenging King County Executive Order PFC-7-1-EO, which has the purpose and intended effect of prohibiting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contractors from using King County International Airport, also known as Boeing Field, as a terminal for flights to remove individuals from the United States or transport immigration detainees within the country.
The Executive Order directs King County officials to “ensure that all future leases, operating permits, and other authorizations for commercial activity at King County International Airport contain a prohibition against providing aeronautical or non-aeronautical services to enterprises engaged in the business of deporting immigration detainees (except for federal government aircraft), to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law.”
After the Executive Order was issued, the company providing fixed-based operator (FBO) services (fueling, aircraft maintenance, and similar services) to ICE’s contractor at Boeing Field informed the contractor that it would no longer service its flights, and no other FBO agreed to assist the contractor. As a result of similar refusals at other airports in the Seattle area, ICE’s contractor has been forced to relocate these flights to Yakima, Washington. This has created significant operational difficulties and additional costs for ICE due to: (1) the increased costs of flying in and out of Yakima’s airport, (2) the road conditions between Yakima and Tacoma, which often make transportation of detainees difficult, and (3) the inability to house detainees in or near Yakima in the event of delays or inclement weather. The lawsuit challenges the Executive Order as unlawful under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the Order obstructs and burdens federal activities, discriminates against federal contractors, and is expressly preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits localities such as King County from enacting or enforcing laws or regulations that relate to prices, routes, or services of air carriers.