Ses­sions cracks down on im­mi­grant “sanc­tu­ary cities,”

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Sadie Gurman

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions took new steps Thurs­day to pun­ish cities he be­lieves are not co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents in a move that was met with be­wil­der­ment by lo­cal of­fi­cials who said they did not know why they were be­ing sin­gled out.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment sent let­ters to four cities strug­gling with gun vi­o­lence, telling them they would not be el­i­gi­ble for a pro­gram that pro­vides money to com­bat drug traf­fick­ing and gang crime un­less they give fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties ac­cess to jails and no­tify agents be­fore re­leas­ing in­mates wanted on im­mi­gra­tion vi­o­la­tions.

The cities — Bal­ti­more, Al­bu­querque, and Stock­ton and San Bernardino in California — all had ex­pressed in­ter­est in the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Pub­lic Safety Part­ner­ship, which en­lists fed­eral agents, an­a­lysts and tech­nol­ogy to help com­mu­ni­ties find so­lu­tions to crime.

“By tak­ing sim­ple, com­mon­sense con­sid­er­a­tions into ac­count, we are en­cour­ag­ing ev­ery ju­ris­dic­tion in this coun­try to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral law en­force­ment,” Ses­sions said in a state­ment that ac­com­pa­nied the let­ters.

The threat marks Ses­sions’ lat­est ef­fort to force lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to help fed­eral agents de­tain and de­port peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally as part of a push to re­duce crime he be­lieves is linked to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. The at­tor­ney gen­eral has re­peat­edly vowed to with­hold fed­eral money from cities that do not co­op­er­ate.

But it was not im­me­di­ately clear to some of the cities why they were tar­geted.

In a let­ter to Ses­sions, Repub­li­can Mayor Richard Berry de­nied Al­bu­querque is a do-called “sanc­tu­ary city” and said he has been try­ing to work with im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties since tak­ing of­fice in 2009. In fact, Berry said, Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment staffing at the pri­son trans­port center fell in re­cent years.

“If your agency has ques­tions or con­cerns with our (Ber­nalillo) County jails, I would re­fer you to their lead­er­ship,” Berry wrote.

An­other con­cern raised by cities is that po­lice who pa­trol the streets book sus­pects into jails run by county or state au­thor­i­ties over which they have no con­trol. The Jus­tice Depart­ment’s let­ters fo­cus on giv­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents ac­cess to such de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties.


The Kimo Theater is on Route 66 in Al­bu­querque, N.M. The city’s mayor told At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions in a let­ter that Al­bu­querque is not a “sanc­tu­ary city” and that he has tried to work with im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties since tak­ing of­fice in 2009.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions sin­gled out four cities.

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