PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Five jurisdictions that have proudly bucked calls to cooperate on immigration roundups with federal agents received stern letters from the Justice Department.
“This letter is to inform you that, based on a preliminary review, the department has determined that your jurisdiction appears to have laws, policies, or practices that violate 8 U.S.C. § 1373,” each of the letters states, referencing a federal law that requires state or local government to let their employees share details about an individual’s immigration status with federal authorities.
President Donald Trump invoked the law shortly after taking office in an executive order that threatens to pull federal grant money from any jurisdictions that don’t cooperate.
Though a federal judge in San Francisco found the executive order unconstitutional, officials representing Philadelphia, New York City, New Orleans, Chicago and Cook County, Illinois, all received warning letters Wednesday based on their receipt of Byrne JAG awards, shorthand for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.
Milwaukee and the state of Connecticut received letters as well, but theirs say the DOJ found no evidence of noncompliance. Clark County, Nevada, and Miami-Dade County, Florida, both received good marks as well in previous letters.
Representatives for each of the cities that received warning letters meanwhile have been outspoken about their objections to Section 1373, which they say unconstitutionally uses local resources for federal matters that cause strife in communities.
“The NOPD will not be the federal government’s deportation force,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told reporters. “We will build relationships between the NOPD and all community members. The city of New Orleans will not be sidetracked by caustic, political rhetoric that seeks to make us fearful of others and scapegoat immigrants. The NOPD will continue to focus on the arrest and conviction of violent criminals, regardless of their immigration status.”
Landrieu insisted that his city is in full compliance with all federal laws, including Section 1373, and that the letter he received omitted the importance of Chapter 41.6.1 of the New Orleans Police Department’s operation manual.
“We continue to state unambiguously that Chapter 41.6.1 does not restrict officers and employees from requesting information regarding immigration status from federal immigration officers,” Landrieu told reporters. “Pursuant to standard training procedures, all officers and employees were notified about the policy in September 2016. Instead of fear-mongering and false accusations, we urge you to work with mayors across the nation to tackle violent crime through smart, evidence-based policing.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio likewise insisted that there is no danger of funding loss.
“We are fully in compliance with the law,” de Blasio told reporters Thursday. “The NYPD deserves the anti-terrorism funding they have gotten from the federal government, and if President Trump stops our funding for the NYPD, we will see the president in court. It’s as simple as that. We are fully in compliance. The Supreme Court under Justice Roberts – in fact, he wrote the decision in 2012 – said that the federal government cannot for political reasons withhold funding of this nature. That was reiterated in another court action recently. We are fully in compliance, and if they want to have a court battle, we are ready for that court battle.”
As in San Francisco, the city of Philadelphia sued the Justice Department over its sanctuary city ban in August.
“The Trump administration claims that it is imposing these [conditions] to keep Philadelphians safer, but the facts don’t lie. Philadelphia isn’t breaking federal law,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at the time the lawsuit was filed.
According to that complaint, the city estimated that Philadelphia was home to at least 50,000 undocumented immigrants or noncitizens.
Kenney brought up this lawsuit after receiving the government’s threatening letter this week.
“While I firmly believe the city complies with federal laws, the city’s position for some time has been that the attorney general has overstepped his authority in even requiring us to comply with 8 U.S.C Section 1373 as a condition of a grant that has nothing to do with immigration enforcement,” Kenney said in a statement. “That’s why we filed a lawsuit against the DOJ on August 30. In my view, the DOJ’s actions have all been about political showmanship – they have nothing to do with the grant money to which the city is entitled. They also have nothing to do with keeping our communities safe. Philadelphia is at a 40-year low in crime – in no small part because of the hard-won trust our current policies have helped build between police and immigrant communities. If victims and witnesses do not feel safe cooperating with the police, every Philadelphian will be less safe.”
Philadelphia has several protections for immigrants entangled with law enforcement. Its policies forbid police officers from asking anyone about their immigration status, bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement from interviewing state inmates without the individual’s consent, and allow police to withhold information from ICE on anyone who has not been convicted of a first- or second-degree felony involving violence.
These policies are thanks in part to executive orders signed by Mayor Kenny and his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Nutter.
Nutter actually changed his mind and reinitiated cooperation in the last month of his term, but Kenney rescinded that change on his first day in office.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a speech in Philadelphia in July, he focused on threat Americans face from undocumented immigrants in the regiments of violent street gangs like the MS-13.
“These policies are often called sanctuary policies, but they are giving sanctuary not to law-abiding citizens of our communities, they are providing sanctuary to criminals,” Sessions said.
While federal inmate populations do represent a much higher share of noncitizens (22 percent), they are greatly outnumbered by the inmates in state and local facilities. Furthermore, as the New York Times reported, “about one-third of noncitizen federal inmates are serving time for immigration offenses — usually re-entering the country illegally after being deported — that are not covered by state law.”
The Justice Department’s letters invite the jurisdictions to respond to its preliminary findings, and provide any additional evidence they wish the DOJ to consider before a final determination is reached.
“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,” Sessions said Thursday in a statement about the letters.
“I commend the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and the state of Connecticut on their commitment to complying with Section 1373, and I urge all jurisdictions found to be out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents,” Sessions added. “We urge jurisdictions to not only comply with Section 1373 but to establish sensible and effective partnerships to properly process criminal aliens.”