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Attorney General Jeff Sessions now considers jurisdictions that prevent law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status in violation of U.S. Code.
The Justice Department sent 29 state and local jurisdictions letters warning certain law enforcement grants are contingent upon cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, on the same day a Philadelphia judge ruled the agency can’t withhold funding.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson’s Wednesday decision, specific to Philadelphia, found denying $1.6 million in justice grants would cause irreparable damage—preventing the city from affording first responder tools like naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses.
The Justice Department may only intervene when local government’s approach to health and safety conflicts significantly with federal immigration enforcement, Baylson continued, which was not the case with Philadelphia rejecting “sanctuary city” status.
“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents.”
Baylson addressed this frequent assertion of Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration directly, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
“There is no evidence in the record whatsoever that non-citizens in Philadelphia commit any more crimes than the citizens. In fact, [Police] Commissioner [Richard] Ross testified that Philadelphia born and bred residents are much more responsible for crime in the City of Philadelphia than aliens.”
That didn’t stop the department from pointing out the city’s uptick in homicides as it considers a possible appeal.
Jurisdictions found to have possibly violated 8 U.S.C. 1373, which bars local governments from preventing their employees from sharing information on a person’s immigration status with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have until Dec. 8 to demonstrate they’re in compliance or lose out on their Byrne Justice Assistance Grant awards.
Most cities and counties insist they already abide by the statute, some prohibiting government employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status altogether, so there’s no information to share. Local officials have expressed concerns about unconstitutionally detaining suspected undocumented immigrants on behalf of the federal government, absent a warrant, for fear of legal retribution.
Losing a Byrne JAG grant, the leading source of federal justice funding, could hurt a jurisdiction’s ability to fund law enforcement, new technology, crime prevention, courts, corrections, drug treatment, mental health programs and crisis intervention teams.
Illinois, Oregon and Vermont were the three states to receive the letters from the Justice Department.
Nine counties received letters as well, six in California: Bernalillo County, New Mexico; Contra Costa County, California; King County, Washington; Monterey County, California; Multnomah County, Oregon; Riverside County, California; Sacramento County, California; Santa Clara County, California; and Sonoma County, California.
Of the 17 cities to receive letters, six were in California and two in New Jersey: Albany, New York; Berkeley, California; Burlington, Vermont; Denver; Fremont, California; Jackson, Mississippi; Lawrence, Massachusetts; Los Angeles; Louisville, Kentucky; Middlesex, New Jersey; Newark, New Jersey; San Francisco; Santa Ana, California; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Watsonville, California; and West Palm Beach, Florida.
In Washington state, King County Council Chair Joe McDermott was asked to coordinate with Seattle, its county seat, to prove compliance in a letter that flagged its Sheriff’s Department for policies prohibiting deputies from initiating inquiries into a person’s immigration status and declining ICE detainers.
The county is eligible for 16 justice grants totalling about $14 million for areas like crime prevention and community policing.
“AG Sessions back to his false threats and bullying today,” McDermott tweeted Wednesday evening.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
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