In Letter, Department of Justice Again Challenges “Sanctuary Jurisdictions”

Once again, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has sent letters to 23 jurisdictions (fourteen cities, six counties and three states) demanding proof that each jurisdiction is not restricting the sharing of citizenship or immigration status information by its law enforcement officers or other government officials with federal immigration authorities.

The DOJ is accusing these jurisdictions of violating 8 U.S.C. 1373, a federal statute that prohibits state and local government from instituting laws, policies, or practices that restrict, any government entity or official from exchanging citizenship or immigration status information with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

These jurisdictions are being targeted because they applied for and or received Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne JAG) in FY 2016 and FY 2017. The DOJ is stating that as a condition of receiving the Byrne JAG award, the jurisdictions had to certify that they are not in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1373. The letters threaten to subpoena the jurisdictions if they fail to respond, fail to respond completely, or fail to respond in a timely manner with DOJ’s demands.

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If the DOJ determines that the jurisdictions failed to comply with section 1373, it could result in the DOJ seeking the return of FY2016 grants, requiring additional conditions for receipt of any FY2017 Byrne JAG funding, and/or jurisdictions being deemed ineligible to receive FY2017 Byrne JAG funding.

The DOJ’s effort to increase pressure on these jurisdiction comes at a time when federal courts are considering several cases that were filed by some of these jurisdictions to stop the DOJ’s efforts to punish sanctuary cities. To date, federal courts have issued several rulings that have blocked the DOJ and the Trump Administration’s efforts to withhold funding from sanctuary cities. This latest effort by the DOJ is likely to face similar lawsuits.

The White House, the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have wrongfully characterized sanctuary/welcoming cities as safe havens for undocumented immigrants who violate federal, state and local criminal laws. Nothing can be further from the truth. NLC strongly believes that no city or local government official willfully provides sanctuary to dangerous violent criminals, immigrants or citizens alike.

While local governments are working to strengthen police-community relations, build trust, advance initiatives to increase economic mobility, and live out their values of inclusion and equity, efforts by the DOJ to target cities for their welcoming policies for non-violent immigrants is counterproductive and counterintuitive to these goals.

NLC believes that any attempt by Congress and the Administration to shift the federal responsibility of enforcing federal civil immigration laws to local law enforcement is an unfunded mandate that diverts critical resources from local government programs, compromises public safety, and hinders local efforts to work with immigrant communities.

Local leaders want to work with the DOJ and DHS to identify and remove violent criminal immigrants, however, continued threats by Justice and Homeland Security Officials to punish sanctuary/welcoming cities is making cooperation difficult and potentially putting communities at risk.

If the DOJ and DHS are committed to make our communities safer, then their federal law enforcement officials need to work with local law enforcement officials to go after the violent immigrant criminals and stop trying to force local law enforcement to detain and arrest non-violent immigrants.

About the Author: Yucel (“u-jel”) Ors is the program director of public safety and crime prevention at the National League of Cities. Follow Yucel on Twitter at @nlcpscp.