- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Trump administration is approaching a crossroads in the battle over sanctuary cities with a decision due next month on where to build a new FBI headquarters.

The two finalists: Prince George’s County in Maryland, where local officials resist helping deport illegal immigrants, and Fairfax County in Virginia, where police make a point to cooperate.

Taking an aggressive stance against illegal immigration, President Trump signed an executive order his first week in office that promised to cut off federal funds to local governments that willfully violate federal law to shield aliens from removal from the U.S.

Administration officials, however, won’t say whether that edict applies to construction projects like the $2.5 billion FBI complex that’s to be built in the Washington suburbs.

But fans of Mr. Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration say they’d be dismayed if his administration awarded such a plum federal project to a county that refuses to cooperate with the federal government.

“The first criteria should be that it doesn’t go into a sanctuary city,” said Sue Payne, a conservative activist in Maryland. “You can’t put the top law enforcement agency into a lawbreaking jurisdiction. How does Trump justify that?”

The General Services Administration, which is making the decision, has narrowed the choices to Greenbelt and Landover in Prince George’s County and Springfield in Fairfax County. The finalists were chosen more than a year before Mr. Trump became president.

Ms. Payne said the decision should be put on hold and re-evaluated by the Trump administration.

Officials at the White House, GSA and FBI declined to comment on whether sanctuary status would play a role in selecting the site.

The bureau is currently headquartered in Washington, which proudly proclaims its sanctuary status. However, the J. Edgar Hoover Building was built in 1974, years before providing safe haven for illegal immigrants became something local governments did.

The FBI is moving because the Hoover building no longer meets its needs. The imposing edifice on Pennsylvania Avenue houses less than half the bureau’s 11,000 employees, with the rest scattered in offices around Washington.

The new 2.1 million-square-foot complex in the suburbs will consolidate the FBI workforce in one place, providing a sustained economic boon for the county and state that wins the project.

While there’s no universal definition of sanctuary cities, most analysts say a good threshold is if local police refuse to honor detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A detainer request asks that an illegal immigrant be held for pickup by federal agents.

Some jurisdictions go even further and refuse to notify ICE when an illegal immigrant is in custody, or will be released.

At least 279 jurisdictions refused at least one detainer request in 2016, according to ICE.

Prince George’s County officials balked at being labeled as a sanctuary.

“It’s a political term. It’s not a legal term,” said Scott L. Peterson, spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.

He said the county has never designated itself a “sanctuary” for illegal immigrants.

But the county’s policy severely limits the amount of cooperation police are able to give to ICE agents. The policy reads: “If an ICE Detainer is received for an individual in custody, no action is to be taken. The information will not be entered into [a police database] and ICE will not be notified.”

Mr. Peterson said that since the adoption of the policy in October 2014, ICE had not sent any detainer requests to the country’s law enforcement agencies.

In the nine months prior to adoption of the policy, ICE requested that 119 individuals be held for deportation. County records show 36 of them were actually deported.

“No question, [the] county is a sanctuary,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, who is one of the country’s foremost experts on sanctuary cities.

She said the county “is clearly in violation” of the federal law that requires cooperation with federal authorities.

Fairfax County, by contrast, does cooperate, she said.

Pat Herrity, who represents Springfield on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said he hoped that helps their bid.

“I think it would be difficult to locate a law enforcement headquarters in a place that does not comply with federal law,” he said.

“We fully comply with immigration and immigration laws. Our policy on the books is that we do,” he said.

The board in January 2016 reaffirmed that the county was not a sanctuary jurisdiction, directing the county executive to notify public safety agencies to comply with federal immigration law.

Fairfax County turns over hundreds of illegal immigrants to the feds each year.

In 2016, for instance, the county received detainers for 289 inmates identified as illegal immigrants, Of those, ICE took custody of 258, according to the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office.

Prince George’s officials, meanwhile, have struck a defiant note.

Mr. Baker, the county executive, bristled after Mr. Trump’s executive order calling for a crackdown on sanctuaries.

“We follow the law but are not the federal government. We are not ICE. We are not going to be rounding people up who have not committed crimes. And we are not going to be holding them forever for the folks to come in here,” he said.

“So it doesn’t matter what President Trump says. It was our policy during the Obama administration, and it is going to be our policy during the Trump administration,” he said.

Mr. Trump last week made a direct appeal to police chiefs and sheriffs across the country to help the federal authorities combat illegal immigrants involved in crime.

“You have that power because you know them. You’re there. You’re local. You know the illegals. You know them by their first name. You know them by their nicknames,” the president told the Major Cities Chiefs Association winter meeting in Washington.

“You know the bad ones. You know the good ones. I want you to turn in the bad ones,” he said. “We’ll get them out of our country and bring them back where they came from, and we’ll do it fast. You have to call up the federal government, Homeland Security, because so much of the problems — you look at Chicago and you look at other places. So many of the problems are caused by gang members, many of whom are not even legally in our country.”

Andrea Noble and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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