At a White House press briefing Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal law enforcement efforts will not be eligible for certain federal grants.
In his statement, Sessions described sanctuary cities as making America less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the streets. He said jurisdictions will have to prove compliance with 8 U.S.C. Section 1373 as a condition for receiving Department of Justice grants.
“Failure to deport aliens who are convicted for criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk – especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators,” said Sessions. “Countless Americans would be alive today – and countless loved ones would not be grieving today – if the policies of these sanctuary jurisdictions were ended.”
The attorney general pointed to the case of Kate Steinle as evidence for his office’s efforts. Steinle was shot and killed by a Mexican national in San Francisco, a sanctuary city, in July 2015.
“The shooter, Francisco Sanchez, was an illegal immigrant who had already been deported five times and had seven felony convictions,” said Sessions. “Just eleven weeks before the shooting, San Francisco had released Sanchez from its custody, even though ICE had filed a detainer requesting that he be kept in custody until immigration authorities could pick him up for removal.”
Sessions’ announcement comes a week after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a report detailing which counties refused to transfer custody of undocumented immigrants to the feds. From Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, more than 200 detainers requested by ICE were declined by jurisdictions in 16 states.
If these cities don’t start complying, Sessions said the Justice Department is prepared to withhold portions of the more than $4.1 billion in grant money it’s slated to dole out to local governments this fiscal year.
“Failure to remedy violations could result in withholding of grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants,” Sessions said. “The Department of Justice will also take all lawful steps to claw-back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction that willfully violates Section 1373.”
Still, some sanctuary city leaders remained defiant Monday. “In the absence of a criminal warrant we do not detain anyone after a judge determines that he or she should be released,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s spokesman told the Chicago Sun Times.
The office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed that sentiment. “Chicago is proud to stand with 34 cities and counties across the country in asking a federal court to prevent the federal government from illegally withholding federal funds,” said Mark McGrath, an Emanuel spokesman.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler also questioned Sessions’ legal ability to withhold funds, and criticized efforts by ICE in his community.
“This weekend, ICE arrested Francisco J. Rodriguez Dominguez, a 25-year-old who has lived in the United States since he was five,” wrote Wheeler in a statement. “Far from being a violent criminal, Francisco is a respected member of the community, a student and a volunteer. This arrest does nothing to promote public safety. Instead, actions like this only serve to tear apart our community and needlessly alter the lives of our residents.”
“Instead of making us safer, the Trump administration is spreading fear and promoting race-based scapegoating,” said California Senate leader Kevin de León in a statement. “Their gun-to-the-head method to force resistant cities and counties to participate in Trump’s inhumane and counterproductive mass-deportation is unconstitutional and will fail.”