Central Valley City Balks at Sessions’ Threat to Cut Off Grant Funds

STOCKTON, Calif. (CN) – The Central Valley city of Stockton is pushing back against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to deny the Stockton Police Department crucial grant money for combating violent crime.

U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Democrat who represents Stockton in the House, recently sent a response to Sessions expressing his opposition to the Justice Department’s letter demanding cooperation in removing suspected undocumented immigrants from their jails.

In his reply, McNerney said that “withholding funding, coupled with proposed budget cuts to the Byrne Justice Assistance grants and other programs, sends the wrong message to our local law enforcement officers,” and that holding back funds “threatens any progress that’s been made.”

He also notes that the violent crime rates in the four cities named in the Justice Department’s probe – Stockton, Baltimore, Chicago, and San Bernardino, California – are the result of “local gangs, not illegals.”

Sessions’ letter to the Stockton Police Department on Aug. 3 posed three questions meant to determine whether or not the city would be eligible for the Public Safety Partnership program. The training and technical assistance from the program provides officers with better tools to combat violent crime.

To get the money, the city would have to prove that they are not a “sanctuary jurisdiction” and are cooperating with the federal government in three ways: giving the Department of Homeland Security access to jails to investigate suspected undocumented immigrants, giving Homeland Security at least 48 hours notice before releasing a suspected immigrant, and complying with written requests to hold foreign nationals for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release.

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs has said Stockton is not a sanctuary jurisdiction as claimed by Sessions, and that they fully comply with federal officials in identifying suspected undocumented immigrants. However, he has remained adamant in interviews that they wouldn’t stop, question or detain someone based on their immigration status.

In addition, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department runs the jails, not the Stockton Police Department, so any request made to the city wouldn’t apply to them. A statement released by the San Bernardino Police Department echoes that, saying, “Given that the city does not operate a jail facility, we do not meet the criteria set forth in the inquiry.”

Angelica Salceda, a staff attorney for the San Joaquin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says the Justice Department’s threat to cut funding is merely politics infringing on local law enforcement.

“This is part of a sustained campaign by Trump to bully local communities into being part of a mass deportation machine,” Salceda said.

She added that to be able to actually cut funding, the questions posed by the Justice Department must be turned into actual requirements. Even then, the department wouldn’t be able to impose any restrictions without the approval of Congress.

Far from doing much to help Stockton fight violent crime, Salceda said the result would “drive a dangerous wedge” between the police and the people they are entrusted to protect.

“Trust between the community and local law enforcement agencies is important. We know that when people don’t feel safe reporting (crimes), this does not contribute to the safety of the community,” she said.

People would be more likely to keep quiet about crimes for fear that federal immigration officials would swoop down and deport them, she said.

In response to Sessions’ threat, the ACLU sent a letter of its own to city of Stockton telling Tubbs and local law enforcement to hold firm their position of defiance.

At this point, Salceda said she sees no reason for city officials to fire back legally, as is the case in Chicago. Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his city had sued Sessions for threatening to impose “unconstitutional grant conditions.”

Salceda said using political pressure to “threaten to defund is cruel and irrational,” adding that she hopes Stockton doesn’t “cave in to coercion” and has confidence the city will remind the federal government of the laws already set in place.

Stockton, population 315,000, had the dubious distinction in 2012 of being the 10th most dangerous city in America. It is also the second largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy, from which it successfully emerged in 2015.

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