Jurisdictions accused by the Trump administration of violating federal immigration statutes defended their so-called “sanctuary” immigration policies, making the case they are compliant with federal law and should not lose federal grant funding.
Philadelphia officials struck a defiant note, writing in a letter to the Justice Department that a local policy banning city officials from inquiring about residents’ immigration status does not violate federal law because if the city doesn’t have the information, its officials can’t be required to share it.
“The federal statute does not require cities to inquire about or collect immigration status information, but only prohibits cities from restricting the sharing of that information if they have it,” wrote City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante.
It’s unclear whether the reasoning will pass muster with Justice Department officials.
But just last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions took a swipe at Chicago over its immigration policies as he announced the details of an initiative meant to combat gun crime there.
“So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies tie the hands of law enforcement by rejecting common sense and undermining federal laws that would remove criminal, illegal aliens from the streets and remove them from this country,” Mr. Sessions said as he spoke about the gun violence in Chicago.
The Justice Department warned a mix of 10 cities, states and counties in April that they risked federal grant funding if they couldn’t prove compliance with federal law U.S.C. 1373, which bans local governments from enacting policies that restrict communications with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
The jurisdictions, which were singled out by the Obama administration’s Justice Department last year, were required to respond by June 30.
Justice officials have yet to comment on the documentation received, but all 10 jurisdictions have indicated, either through information posted online or in response to inquiries from The Washington Times, that they submitted responses.
The jurisdictions all say they comply with the federal immigration law, but provided varied legal justifications.
New York City authorities pointed to issues surrounding immigration detainers in their response to the Justice Department.
Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter noted that courts have found compliance with civil detainers filed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is voluntary, but that city officials do respond to ICE requests for information about a person’s expected release date when the individual has been “convicted of a violent or serious crime or identified as a possible match in the terrorist screening database.”
A detainer is a request sent by ICE agents to local law enforcement agencies requesting an individual be held in custody for an additional 48 hours beyond expected release in order to give agents time to take the person into federal custody for deportation.
Mr. Carter said the city’s confidentiality policy, which protects residents from having personal information like immigration status disclosed to third parties except in certain circumstances, “exists in harmony with federal law” and helps maintain trust between citizens and the government.
“Any application of 1373 that wrests away the City’s sovereign power to maintain the confidentiality of information obtained by its officers and employees in the regular course of business would violate the system of dual sovereignty that is ‘grounded in the very structure of the Constitution,’” Mr. Carter wrote.
Mr. Carter also noted one of the federal grants at risk to jurisdictions that don’t comply — the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program — is named for a New York City police officer who was killed while on a detail to protect an immigrant who was cooperating with law enforcement to help stem crime in his neighborhood.
“It would therefore be ironic to apply 1373 in a way that strips JAG funds from any jurisdiction with a confidentiality policy that encourages cooperation between law enforcement and immigrants,” he wrote.
But ICE has taken to highlighting the cases in which criminals have been set free because of sanctuary policies. ICE officials said last month they picked up Joselin Medina, a Dominican man who had a prior drug sales conviction and had been deported in 2002.
Officials said Medina was arrested on misdemeanor charges by the New York Police Department, but that city officials did not honor an ICE detainer and he was released on bail. He was arrested by ICE agents a day later.
“Even a federal criminal warrant issued by a United States Magistrate is not enough for the City of New York to turn over a convicted felon to ICE,” said Thomas R. Decker, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in New York. “It is unfathomable that New York would create such a public safety risk for the sake of political expediency.”
Other jurisdictions asked by DOJ to certify compliance include California, Connecticut, Chicago, New Orleans, Clark County in Nevada (Las Vegas), Miami-Dade County in Florida, Milwaukee County in Wisconsin and Cook County in Illinois (Chicago).
The 2016 DOJ’s inspector general report that highlighted the jurisdictions, notes that although some of the questionable policies do not explicitly restrict the sharing of immigration status information with ICE, that officials believe such policies “may be causing local officials to believe and apply the policies in a manner that prohibits or restricts cooperation with ICE in all respects.”
In Miami-Dade County, which earlier this year ordered its corrections department to begin honoring immigration detainer requests, officials submitted 423 pages of documentation. County Attorney Abigail Price-Williams said the documentation showed the county was in compliance with federal law.
The documentation included individual emails from county officials acknowledging receipt of detainer requests sent by ICE and fingerprint records of inmates that were shared with federal authorities.
In Philadelphia, Mr. Tulante went on to say that the city’s policies don’t prohibit information sharing with federal authorities. The city makes available fingerprint data that can help immigration authorities determine whether someone is in the U.S. illegally.
By not seeking immigration status information from victims and witnesses, the city is helping to establish trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, Mr. Tulante wrote.
In Chicago, where lawmakers resisted the Trump administration’s crackdown on sanctuary policies, officials strove to make sure residents did not construe the certification letters with any change in policy.
“The City of Chicago submitted our letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, which demonstrates our compliance with the law as other cities have also done,” said Jennifer Martinez, a spokeswoman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“But make no mistake, Chicago will continue to be a welcoming city and stand up for the values that have made us a beacon of hope for immigrants and refugees from around the world for generations,” she said.