Jeff Sessions’s unrelenting assault on sanctuary cities began the day he was approved as Attorney General by the senate. On Thursday, the latest advance in his anti-immigrant offensive, Sessions threatened to withhold crime fighting funds from four cities over their federal immigration compliance.
The letter was an ultimatum: either give Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to jails, which includes alerting agents when undocumented immigrants are released from custody, or the DOJ will withhold grant money for fighting gang crime and trafficking.
Sessions letter specifically refers to the Justice Department’s Public Safety Partnership — a program that designates funding for “training and technical assistance” in cities struggling to curtail violent crime.
“By forcing police to go into more dangerous situations to re-arrest the same criminals, these policies endanger law enforcement officers more than anyone,” Sessions said. “The Department of Justice is committed to supporting our law enforcement at every level, and that’s why we’re asking ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions to stop making their jobs harder.”
What’s puzzling about Sessions’s letter, as the Associated Press noted, is that the cities the DOJ wrote aren’t actually sanctuary cities. Officials from two of the cities, San Bernardino and Albuquerque, specifically denied that they were sanctuary cities. Baltimore and Stockton have immigrant friendly policies, but are not self-professed sanctuary cities.
From the AP:
But it was not immediately clear to some of the cities why they were targeted.
In a letter to Sessions, Republican Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry denied that New Mexico’s largest city is a sanctuary for immigrants living in the country illegally and said he has been trying to work with immigration authorities since taking office in 2009. In fact, Berry said, Immigration and Customs Enforcement staffing at the prison transport center fell in recent years.
“If your agency has questions or concerns with our (Bernalillo) County jails, I would refer you to their leadership,” Berry wrote.
Officials from Baltimore, San Bernardino, and Stockton, all expressed similar qualms to Sessions letter; all four responses reveal that the Attorney General might not know what constitutes a sanctuary city or that police officers book arrestees into jails run by the county.
Furthermore, police officers in all four cities don’t enforce immigration laws, like many municipal police forces (unless they’ve been deputized to do so). Sessions letter to Baltimore is particularly confounding since it already complies with an Obama administration request to alert ICE when arrests are made.
“When an arrest is made, a notification is sent to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who alert the jail if they have a detainer on the person,” a statement from Maryland corrections read. “48 hours before the completion of local charges, the jail notifies ICE that person in custody is scheduled to be released.”
It’s unclear why Sessions targeted these cities. However the intent of his letter is transparent: it’s a warning to other cities to comply with ICE requests that local jails detain people for 48 hours longer than they are typically held so federal agents can detain them.