- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2017

The Trump administration has cleared two counties accused of having “sanctuary” policies that defy federal immigration laws, ensuring they will be eligible to continue to receive grant money.

Clark County in Nevada and Miami-Dade County in Florida received letters this month from the Justice Department certifying that they comply with laws that require state and local police and sheriff’s departments to share information with federal immigration agents.

They were among 10 jurisdictions the Justice Department had asked to explain themselves this year after the Obama administration flagged them last year for potential violations of federal law.

“Based on the materials you have provided, we found no evidence that Clark County is currently out of compliance with section 1373,” read a letter sent from acting Assistant Attorney General Alan Hanson to Clark County officials. “As a reminder, complying with section 1373 is an ongoing requirement that the Office of Justice Programs will continue to monitor.”

A similar letter was sent to officials in Miami-Dade County.

At stake is millions of dollars in federal grant money that is supposed to go only to jurisdictions that comply with section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code. That law prohibits policies that restrict communications with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

The Obama administration first raised the issue of potential violations in 10 jurisdictions last year, and the Trump administration followed up by sending letters demanding proof of compliance.

Other jurisdictions were the states of California and Connecticut; the municipalities of Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia; and Milwaukee County in Wisconsin and Cook County in Illinois (Chicago).

Officials from California, Connecticut, Cook County and Philadelphia told The Washington Times on Monday that their jurisdictions had not received letters from the Justice Department. Others did not respond.

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the department is providing responses on a rolling basis while each jurisdiction’s documentation is evaluated.

Many of the so-called sanctuary cities reacted with surprise when they were singled out by the Justice Department, saying they didn’t have laws on the books that prevented communication with federal agents and that when illegal immigrants are arrested, their information is automatically submitted to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

When the jurisdictions responded to the Justice Department, all said they were compliant with the federal immigration law but some struck more defiant notes than others.

Chicago leaders responded that city officials do not collect information about immigration status from those they encounter and therefore have no data to share with federal agents.

The city filed a lawsuit Monday against the Justice Department, calling the plan to condition federal law enforcement grants on compliance with immigration law unconstitutional.

The lawsuit alleges that the changes would effectively “federalize local jails and police stations, mandate warrantless detentions in order to investigate for federal civil infractions, sow fear in local immigrant communities, and ultimately make the people of Chicago less safe.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired back, saying Chicago is suffering from a “culture of lawlessness.”

“This administration will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety,” Mr. Sessions said Monday. “So it’s this simple: Comply with the law, or forgo taxpayer dollars.”

Other jurisdictions offered varying legal justifications, leaving room for interpretation among Justice Department officials as to whether they are actually in compliance.

Clark County officials say they believe the certification will now shake loose $975,604 in public safety funding the county was awarded in fiscal 2016 through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants Program.

“The 2016 money is obviously very late, so hopefully this removes any doubt on their part that we are complying with federal law,” said county spokesman Erik Pappa.

Mr. Pappa said the county didn’t receive any direct communication linking the delay to section 1373 compliance, but suspects that was part of the holdup.

“It was our impression of why the money was being withheld,” he said.

Miami-Dade County officials said their police department reported no delays in receiving a Byrne JAG grant for more than $480,000 in fiscal 2016. Their concern about being labeled a “sanctuary” jurisdiction was the potential threat to future federal grants, said Mike Hernandez, a spokesman for Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez.

Officials there took action this year to ensure they were not risking federal grants and ordered the corrections department to begin honoring immigration detainer requests.

When the county responded to the Justice Department’s request to prove compliance with federal immigration law, officials submitted 423 pages of documentation including individual emails from county officials acknowledging receipt of detainer requests sent by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and fingerprint records of inmates that were shared with federal authorities.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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