New York Times
By Vivian Yee and Rebecca R. Ruiz
July 26, 2017
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday moved once again to punish so-called sanctuary cities, announcing that cities and states could lose millions of dollars in federal grants unless they began cooperating with immigration agents.
Only hours before, President Trump had issued his latest public rebuke of Mr. Sessions, amplifying the criticisms he had leveled on Twitter against his attorney general in a Rose Garden news conference at which the president said that he was “very disappointed” in Mr. Sessions’s performance. Asked about Mr. Sessions’s future employment, Mr. Trump said: “Time will tell. Time will tell.”
Mr. Sessions did not address the unfavorable performance review on Tuesday — it was “business as usual” at the Justice Department, a spokeswoman said — but the sanctuary city announcement signaled that he was far from giving up on the immigration agenda he has zealously pursued since he was a senator from Alabama.
“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states,” Mr. Sessions said, adding: “These long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer.”
But it was not clear that he could hold cities to such conditions. Earlier this year, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration from withholding funding over sanctuary policies, a ruling the judge, William H. Orrick of United States District Court in San Francisco, recently reaffirmed over the objections of the government, which argued that only a small pool of grants was at stake. On Tuesday evening, officials in sanctuary cities reacted to the announcement with skepticism and hostility.
The San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera, who is suing the Trump administration over its attempts to cut off funding to sanctuary cities, argued in a statement that Mr. Sessions’s latest effort violated the Constitution.
“We are reviewing these new grant documents, but we remain confident that San Francisco’s sanctuary city policies comply with federal law,” he said.
To receive certain grants for local law enforcement, Mr. Sessions said, local governments must agree to allow federal immigration agents access to their jails and to provide 48 hours’ notice before releasing immigrants whom federal authorities want to detain for immigration violations.
Doing so would knock aside a major hurdle for immigration agents trying to carry out Mr. Trump’s policies: Instead of trying to round up unauthorized immigrants on the street or during raids, they would be able to collect their targets straight from local jails.
Cities that are considered sanctuaries usually refuse to hold people on immigration agents’ behalf without a warrant from a judge. Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions and other advocates of curbing immigration have accused such places of flouting the law and helping convicted criminals evade deportation.
Local officials counter that separating local law enforcement from federal immigration authorities is good policy both from a legal standpoint — in the past, they have faced lawsuits over honoring immigration detainers — and from a public safety standpoint, making immigrants more likely to come forward to report crimes and serve as witnesses.
“This whole concept of wanting to withhold federal funding that promotes public safety is counterproductive, especially when cities like New York are not in violation of these rules and are doing a great job of keeping the city safe,” said Nisha Agarwal, New York’s commissioner of immigrant affairs.
Last Friday, Mr. Sessions traveled to Philadelphia, a sanctuary city, to press his immigration agenda. His message was received less than warmly by the city’s mayor and police commissioner, who suggested that Mr. Sessions’s hard-line policy might undermine public safety.
“I don’t personally believe that we belong in the immigration business,” Richard Ross, Philadelphia’s police commissioner, said on Friday. “We need to have people feel they can come forward and work with us without fear of being taken away.”
Mr. Ross said any loss of federal funding would “really profoundly, in a negative way” affect the city.
Philadelphia received $1.7 million through the grant in question in 2016; under the new terms of the program, the city would not be eligible for any funds.
The grant program was worth more than $260 million to states and cities in 2016, and the Trump administration has requested $384 million for the program for the fiscal year that starts in September.
New York City, which was awarded a three-year, $4.3 million grant in September, planned to use the money to hire new 911 operators, crime analysts and prosecutors. The city would not have to return the first chunk, which amounted to $128,000, but the rest of the grant is in doubt.
Ms. Agarwal said the city was, in fact, complying with the first condition Mr. Sessions outlined by allowing immigration agents to interview people at the city jail on Rikers Island. Not so for the second condition: In New York, only people convicted of one or more of 170 serious felonies, such as arson, robbery or murder, within the last five years can be turned over to immigration agents, and only if the agents have a warrant from a judge.
Among the people most concerned about Mr. Sessions’s teetering relationship with Mr. Trump have been fellow immigration restrictionists, who are counting on Mr. Sessions to remake the federal government’s approach to immigration enforcement. On Tuesday, he seemed to be staying the course.
“Sessions just did America a great service, and he did a huge favor for Donald Trump by helping take a first step toward delivering on one of his campaign promises on sanctuary cities,” said Bob Dane, the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that advocates cutting down on immigration. “Time to bury the hatchet.”
Liz Robbins contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on July 26, 2017, on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Sessions Threatens Sanctuary Cities.
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