- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Justice Department said Thursday it has warned sanctuary cities to quit shielding illegal immigrants from deportation agents or else lose federal grant money, putting some muscle behind Republicans’ push to punish cities and counties that have refused to cooperate.

That could prevent future situations like the Kate Steinle case, where an illegal immigrant was released by the sheriff's department in San Francisco despite a request that he be held for deportation. The man would go on to kill Steinle, according to authorities, as she walked on the city waterfront with her father.

Justice officials confirmed the move in a letter to Rep. John Abney Culberson, Texas Republican and chairman of a key spending subcommittee, who had demanded action from Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch earlier this year.

Under the new guidance, local authorities don’t have to track down illegal immigrants, nor are they required to inquire about someone’s status. But when the government requests information, or when a local officer wants to report someone, the communications can’t be barred, the Justice Department ruled in its new guidance.

That could include situations when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks to be notified when someone they want to deport is being released from a local prison or jail — such as in the Steinle case.

Jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate would lose funding under Justice Assistance Grants and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which provide hundreds of millions of dollars a year to local law enforcement.

“Sanctuary cities are a hub for illegal aliens and criminal activity, and we’ve seen the tragic results of these policies time and time again,” Mr. Culberson said. “It has been more than a year since Kate Steinle was murdered at the hands of a criminal illegal alien who intentionally sought out shelter in San Francisco due to the city’s sanctuary policies. This violence and suffering is intolerable and completely preventable.”

The administration’s move could spur a backlash from immigrant rights activists, who have fought to defend sanctuary cities, insisting local authorities shouldn’t be enlisted in enforcement. The activists say immigrants will trust police less, leaving communities less safe.

Homeland Security officials counter that sanctuary cities release dangerous criminals onto the streets, endangering federal officers who must risk their lives to round the people up.

ICE has been pushing for years for the Justice Department to move against sanctuary cities, but made no headway under former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

But under Mr. Culberson’s prodding, the Justice Department reviewed existing federal law and determined that sanctuary cities violate what’s known as Section 1373, which forbids restrictions on sending or receiving information from federal immigration officers.

The inspector general issued a report looking at 10 reputed sanctuary cities, but it is being withheld as a sensitive law enforcement document, so it’s unclear what the findings were in those specific cases.

The Center for Immigration Studies has compiled a list of more than 300 jurisdictions that have sanctuary policies.

Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the center, said the new Justice Department guidance should free up local police and sheriffs who want to cooperate with federal authorities but are prohibited by a local ordinance or state law. Now officers can make the case that the policy will cost them money.

Some communities will still resist, however, Ms. Vaughan predicted.

“They’re going to have to decide between protecting criminal aliens and obstructing ICE, and receiving federal funding,” she said. “The hope is that many of them will reconsider, but if they don’t, they’re going to pay a price.”

The new guidance says the Justice Department will listen to “any source” that delivers credible evidence that a jurisdiction is acting as a sanctuary. The inspector general will investigate the reports and will refer any guilty jurisdictions back to the department for action.

Those deemed in violation will not only lose the chance at future money, but could have their previous grants clawed back, Ms. Vaughan said.

The Justice Department action comes just a day after Democrats in the Senate filibustered to defend sanctuary cities, blocking a GOP-led bill that would have stripped offending jurisdictions of economic and community development grant money.

Minority Leader Harry Reid said going after sanctuary cities was equivalent to embracing GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

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