- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2017

Baltimore officials found themselves in a quandary when the Justice Department told them that in order to be eligible for a federal crime-fighting program, they would have to prove city policies do not block federal immigration agents’ access to local jails.

Neither the city nor the Baltimore Police Department run the local correctional facilities. Those duties instead fall to the Maryland government.

So when the police department responded to questions posed by the Justice Department about cooperation with immigration authorities, Commissioner Kevin Davis made clear that he was interested in taking part in the federal program — but what happens in the jails is outside his authority.

It’s a response the Justice Department is hearing a lot.

Leaders from Baltimore as well as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and San Bernardino and Stockton in California all provided similar responses when they were asked whether they allow Department of Homeland Security officials access to their jails, if they provide advance notice when they are set to release known illegal immigrants from custody, and whether they have policies requiring local officials to honor immigration detainer requests.

The Justice Department previously told the four cities that in order to participate in the Public Safety Partnership (PSP) program, they “must show a commitment to reducing crime stemming from illegal immigration.” The cities had until Friday to respond to questions posed by the Justice Department to vet their commitment to cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

“On its face, the type of assistance provided through the PSP program could help the city in reducing violent crime,” Commissioner Davis wrote in his response to the DOJ. “It is perplexing, however, to make that assistance [contingent] upon policies and practices surrounding something that is not under our control.”

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden stressed that while it is Bernalillo County that owns and operates the jail where the department brings arrestees, the department has made past efforts to cooperate with federal authorities.

Since 2009 the department has allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents access to arrestees processed at the city’s Prisoner Transport Center. The city implemented certain regulations to prevent racial profiling, requiring that when ICE agents worked at the center, that they interview everyone processed there and not selectively interview only some arrestees based on ethnicity or other factors.

“After a strong start, there has been sporadic coverage by federal officers at our PTC over the years,” Chief Eden wrote to DOJ. “At this time I do not believe that there are any federal officers assigned to this effort. As you can imagine, we do not have the resources to enforce federal immigration laws with our local law enforcement officers and we have no plans to do so.”

The Stockton Police Department provided the same answer to each of the three questions posed.

“The Stockton Police Department does not operate a correctional or detention facility, and therefore this request does not apply,” Police Chief Eric Jones wrote.

The Public Safety Partnership program is a continuation of an Obama-era pilot program known as the Violence Reduction Network. When the DOJ announced the rebranding of the program in June, as well as the first 12 participants brought on during its expansion under the Trump administration, no mention was made of the requirement that cities cooperate with immigration authorities. A Justice Department spokesman said cooperation with federal authorities had already been taken into account for the first 12 cities chosen: Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis; Memphis, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston; Jackson, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan; and Springfield, Illinois.

The cities were selected for the program based on higher-than-average rates of violent crime, with the understanding that other jurisdictions could later be added to the program.

It’s unclear how the Justice Department will vet the four additional cities’ responses in order to decide which to bring into the program. A DOJ spokesman said Monday that no update on the four cities’ responses was available.

Lt. Mike Madden, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Police Department, said based on the criteria sought by the DOJ, the department was “never a contender” for the federal program. He stressed that San Bernardino was never a so-called “sanctuary” city with laws that shield illegal immigrants but that the “parameters of that program have to do with custodial abilities, and we don’t have a jail on our premises.”

“We do have other funding programs that are sponsored through the Department of Justice, and we hope to be able to continue those partnerships,” Lt. Madden said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t want to be involved with other potential components of the training. We would welcome the opportunity, but we will have to wait and see.”

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