- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A delegation of mayors who met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss immigration enforcement say they came away with a better grasp of how the Justice Department will deem cities “sanctuary” jurisdictions and potentially target them for withholding of federal funds.

“We heard a narrowing of what might be a sanctuary city,” said Steve Alder, mayor of Austin, Texas, after emerging from Tuesday’s meeting between members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the attorney general.

But officials said they are still seeking clarity on how the “sanctuary city” label will be applied and whether cities have the legal authority to hold individuals in custody on immigration detainers as they wait for federal agents to retrieve them.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact there is no standard definition of a sanctuary city, though the term is generally thought to apply to jurisdictions that in some way thwart efforts by federal officials to deport illegal immigrants.

The Justice Department put nine jurisdictions — including New York, New Orleans, Chicago and the entire state of California — on notice last week that they could soon lose federal funds unless they can prove they are no longer thwarting Homeland Security’s efforts to deport illegal immigrants.

Letters sent to the jurisdictions state outline actions that put federal funding at risk as violations of Section 1373, or any prohibition or restriction of a government entity from “sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

A common version of a sanctuary policy prohibits local police from alerting federal agents when an illegal immigrant is in custody, or when an illegal immigrant is going to be released. Other versions refuse all contacts with federal immigration officials, or bar police officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status during interactions.

Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Jorge Elorza said Tuesday that if the sanctuary definition is based alone on violations of Section 1373, “I don’t think there are any sanctuary cities in the U.S.”

Tom Manger, head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and chief of the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland, said very few local law enforcement agencies are outright blocking communications with ICE.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Tuesday that when he found out his city was among the jurisdictions put on notice by the Justice Department, he was “very surprised.”

“It’s hard to understand how we are not in compliance,” he said.

It’s standard practice when individuals are arrested in New Orleans that they are automatically fingerprinted and that data is shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, enabling federal authorities to determine if the person is in the country illegally, Mr. Landrieu said.

The city’s concern is that if federal authorities issue a immigration detainer asking local authorities to hold a person beyond the point at which they would be held in a local jail so that ICE agents can pick them up, they will open themselves up to legal action.

Overall, mayors described the meeting as “frank” but productive.

The attorney general said in a statement issued Tuesday that he was “pleased that the mayors who met with us today assured us they want to be in compliance with the law.”

Mr. Sessions noted that his letter to the nine jurisdictions required a response certifying their compliance by June 30 and that one jurisdiction has thus far replied.

“We want all jurisdictions to enthusiastically support the laws of the United States that require the removal of criminal aliens, as many jurisdictions already do,” he said.

Those who participated in Tuesday’s meeting said there are still many lingering questions regarding the legal authority of local law enforcement agencies that hold illegal immigrants in custody.

“Do we have legal authority to hold people on detainers?” Chief Manger said.

He added that he was told ICE officials will start including probable cause statements in their detainer requests.

But the discussion over what law enforcement can and can’t do “is not a political discussion for police,” Chief Manger said. Rather, he believes it is a practical one about what actions officers can legally take.

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