Attorney General Threatens Cities Over Immigration Law Enforcement

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Last Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Miami–Dade County, New Orleans and Chicago, warning local leaders that they must prove their policing policies comply with federal immigration law or risk losing their Byrne JAG law enforcement grants.

The letters are the latest in a string of administration attempts to force cities to enforce federal immigration law, chiefly through threats to claw back grant funding related to gang violence, gun violence and community-police relations.

Ironically, by threatening to terminate millions of dollars in law enforcement funding, the Attorney General’s actions are likely to make cities far less safe.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions put criminals back on your streets,” read Attorney General Sessions’ letters. “They help these gangs to refill their ranks and put innocent life — including the lives of countless law-abiding immigrants — in danger by refusing to share vital information with federal law enforcement.”

In addition to threatening community safety, the Attorney General’s actions also directly conflict with the President’s Executive Order stating that funding for law enforcement will not be targeted in sanctions against so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions.”

Unfortunately, these letters are just the beginning. Analysts expect the that Attorney General will soon issue additional letters to cities that have received COPS hiring grants, Violence Against Women Grants, Juvenile Justice Grants and other justice assistance grants.

While a recent court ruling has stalled the administration’s ambitions to punish so-called “sanctuary cities,” there is still a great deal at risk in other cities:

  • The City of Miami and Dade County
    The Miami Dade Police Department (MDPD) received $481,347 in federal funding “to enhance MDPD’s intelligence gathering and police operations with investments in technology and specialized equipment. The Intelligence-Led Policing project proposes several enhancements to facilitate successful investigations and improve officer safety.
  • The City of Philadelphia
    The Philadelphia Police Department received $1,677,937 for “criminal justice projects: engaging comprehensive criminal justice planning and bringing together system stakeholders, including law enforcement, courts, and prosecutors, public defenders, and corrections officials. These projects are essential to protect public safety and help deliver essential criminal justice services more reliably and cost-effectively.”
  • The City of New Orleans
    City of New Orleans received $265,832 to fund “personnel in the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and the New Orleans Health Department. A small portion of JAG funds is also being used for a drug court training curriculum. The project goals are to increase pretrial services and reduce recidivism.”
  • The City of Chicago and Cook County
    City of Chicago and Cook County Illinois received $2,333,428 “to fund disparate jurisdictions to support law enforcement and crime prevention initiatives. Funds are being used to purchase equipment and support overtime patrols. The project goal is to increase essential law enforcement services.”
  • The City of New York
    City of New York received $4,298,245 “to support a range of program areas including: law enforcement; crime prevention; technology improvement; mental health services; prosecution and courts; reentry; and drug enforcement. Collectively, these strategies are intended to increase public safety and promote fairness in the criminal justice system
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The police chief of St. Paul, Minnesota and sheriff of Hennepin County signed letter opposing the administration’s overreach on immigration laws. (Pioneer Press)

Instead of targeting cities, the Attorney General should work with city leaders to identify solutions that keep our communities safe. If local law enforcement is coopted by the federal government to enforce federal immigration law, community trust in police officers will be severely eroded.

The Federal government must take full responsibility for enforcing federal immigration laws and it should not to push that responsibility to local governments. City leaders are doing their jobs — it’s time for the Attorney General, DHS and Congress to do theirs.

Photo: Getty