Jus­tice Dept. threat­ens to with­hold aid to four cities

San Bernardino and others asked to prove co­op­er­a­tion with im­mi­gra­tion agents.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Tan­fani, Paloma Esquivel and James Queally

In an­other move to pres­sure cities into co­op­er­at­ing with im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment, the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice threat­ened Thurs­day to with­hold crime-fight­ing help from four cities — in­clud­ing two in California — if they refuse to help fed­eral agents tar­get jail in­mates sus­pected of be­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally.

But the de­ci­sion to pub­licly ques­tion San Bernardino and Stock­ton as well as Bal­ti­more and Al­bu­querque ap­peared poorly thought out. Per­plexed of­fi­cials in all four cities said they do not op­er­ate any jails. In two, of­fi­cials said they have no sanc­tu­ary poli­cies.

“The city of San Bernardino is not a sanc­tu­ary city,” Po­lice Chief Jar­rod Bur­guan said in an interview. Asked why he thought the city had been sin­gled out by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, Bur­guan replied, “You would have to ask DOJ.”

In a pub­licly re­leased let­ter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Ses­sions, Al­bu­querque Mayor Richard J. Berry pushed back, high­light­ing the agree­ment his po­lice depart­ment has with im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials to screen peo­ple who are ar­rested.

A Jus­tice spokesman did not re­ply to ques­tions re-

gard­ing why the cities were se­lected.

Each of the cities has been hit hard by surges in vi­o­lent crime and ex­pressed in­ter­est in join­ing a pro­gram that puts fed­eral law en­force­ment man­power and re­sources in cities strug­gling with vi­o­lent crime.

The let­ters are the lat­est threat by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to crack down on so-called sanc­tu­ary cities — a la­bel for cities that de­cline to as­sist im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers in var­i­ous ways. De­spite re­peated threats, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has not cut fund­ing to any of the af­fected com­mu­ni­ties.

The let­ters asked each city about its “com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing vi­o­lent crime stem­ming from il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion” and for proof that it helps im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers take cus­tody of peo­ple who are be­ing held in lo­cal jails and sus­pected of liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally. A Jus­tice Depart­ment spokesman said the new ques­tions are “con­sid­er­a­tions, not re­quire­ments.”

Even though Thurs­day’s threats do not ex­tend to strip­ping cities of ex­ist­ing funds, the stakes are none­the­less high for cities strug­gling to find ways to lift them­selves out of spi­ral­ing crime.

San Bernardino has long been among the most vi­o­lent cities in California, and its prob­lems with crime have been com­pounded by deep fi­nan­cial strug­gles. Just this year, the city emerged from nearly five years of bank­ruptcy dur­ing which its po­lice depart­ment suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant cuts. Last year, the city recorded its high­est homi­cide to­tal in two decades.

As the Po­lice Depart­ment works to re­build, it has sought help from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to off­set its lim­ited re­sources. Late last year, city of­fi­cials touted a $2.8-mil­lion grant from the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to help fund 11 new of­fi­cers.

The new as­sis­tance pro­gram the city wants to join, the Na­tional Pub­lic Safety Part­ner­ship, would help the depart­ment learn how other com­mu­ni­ties around the na­tion have suc­cess­fully dealt with high vi­o­lent crime rates, Bur­guan said.

Though the city has made some progress on its own, “I’m cer­tainly in no po­si­tion that I want to turn it down,” Bur­guan said of the sought-af­ter help.

Sim­i­larly, homi­cides in Bal­ti­more climbed into the triple digits through the first four months of 2017, the city’s high­est mur­der rate per capita in recorded his­tory, ac­cord­ing to city of­fi­cials. Vi­o­lent crime was up 23% as of May 1 com­pared with the same time frame last year, with homi­cides, shoot­ings and rob­beries all in­creas­ing by dou­ble digits.

Last week, the Jus­tice Depart­ment announced that co­op­er­a­tion with im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment — specif­i­cally, agree­ments to let agents into jails to pick up peo­ple sus­pected of be­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally — would be a con­di­tion for lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments to re­ceive a host of law en­force­ment-re­lated grants to­tal­ing about $380 mil­lion for next year.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, in the let­ters sent this week, the depart­ment for the first time is ask­ing whether cities are willing to com­ply with de­tainer re­quests from U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. The de­tain­ers ask po­lice to hold peo­ple for up to 48 hours af­ter they would oth­er­wise be re­leased from cus­tody in order to give ICE agents time to take them into fed­eral cus­tody. Some ap­peals courts have held that such re­quests, with­out war­rants, are il­le­gal. In light of the le­gal rul­ings, none of the county sher­iffs in California — many of whom sup­port a hard-line stance on im­mi­gra­tion — honor de­tainer re­quests.

As in other im­mi­gra­tion ini­tia­tives, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sanc­tu­ary city crack­down has been frus­trated by fed­eral courts. A judge in San Francisco blocked an ex­ec­u­tive order from Trump that would have de­nied all fed­eral fund­ing to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that refuse to as­sist on im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment. That case is still on­go­ing, along with other chal­lenges to the order.

There is no clear agree­ment on what con­sti­tutes a sanc­tu­ary city. That con­fu­sion, along with gaffes by the Jus­tice and Home­land Se­cu­rity de­part­ments along the way, have ham­strung the cam­paign.

In April, Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials pub­licly re­leased an on­line data­base of im­mi­grants in de­ten­tion that was sup­posed to help the pub­lic search for po­ten­tial crim­i­nals, only to dis­cover that chil­dren as young as 3 and 4 were in­cluded. Depart­ment of­fi­cials said a fil­ter was not prop­erly ap­plied to the data made avail­able on the website.

And sev­eral months ago, im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials be­gan pub­lish­ing er­ror-plagued re­ports on ju­ris­dic­tions they said were re­leas­ing im­mi­grants from jail or af­ter ar­rest de­spite de­tainer re­quests. In some cases, ICE mixed up names, such as con­fus­ing Franklin coun­ties in Iowa, New York and Penn­syl­va­nia. In other cases, the de­tainees had al­ready been picked up by ICE or had never been re­leased.

But Ses­sions, a strong pro­po­nent of lower im­mi­gra­tion rates, has con­tin­ued to push the cause ag­gres­sively, high­light­ing cases in which peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally have com­mit­ted vi­o­lent crimes and con­demn­ing sanc­tu­ary cities as havens for th­ese crim­i­nals.

“By tak­ing sim­ple, com­mon-sense 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 Thurs­day. “That will ul­ti­mately make all of us safer — es­pe­cially law en­force­ment on our streets.”

The let­ters sent this week pre­sented a lit­mus test to the four cities. The po­lice chiefs were given un­til Aug. 18 to show they have poli­cies in place that call for jail­ers to honor the de­tainer re­quests, grant im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers ac­cess to their jails and pro­vide no­tice be­fore re­leas­ing an in­mate ICE agents have said they want to take into cus­tody.

Be­cause they run no jails, of­fi­cials in San Bernardino, Bal­ti­more and Al­bu­querque pre­sum­ably will be able to ar­gue the pol­icy ques­tions are ir­rel­e­vant to them. In at least some of the cities, peo­ple who are ar­rested can be briefly de­tained in hold­ing cells — rarely long enough for im­mi­gra­tion agents to is­sue a de­tainer re­quest. Then the in­mates are sent to county and state fa­cil­i­ties.

Stock­ton Po­lice Chief Eric Jones said he was dis­ap­pointed by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s de­ci­sion to use the pro­gram for po­lit­i­cal lever­age.

“For us, it’s all about re­duc­ing vi­o­lent crime. That’s what the PSP is about. It’s un­for­tu­nate when things like this be­come politi­cized,” he said.

The chief added that he does not see a con­nec­tion be­tween il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and vi­o­lent crime in Stock­ton. While the city strug­gles with gang vi­o­lence, most of those fac­tions are “gen­er­a­tional gangs that do not come from out­side the coun­try,” he said.

De­spite years of in­creas­ing vi­o­lence, vi­o­lent crime is down 2% in Stock­ton so far this year, Jones said.

Twelve cities are al­ready en­rolled in the Pub­lic Safety Part­ner­ship, which en­lists fed­eral agents, an­a­lysts and tech­nol­ogy to help com­mu­ni­ties find so­lu­tions to crime. The group in­cludes Hous­ton, which is chal­leng­ing a state law that would com­pel cities to turn over im­mi­grants.

Ser­gio Luna, an or­ga­nizer with In­land Con­gre­ga­tions United for Change — a coali­tion of re­li­gious groups and others that has for years pushed San Bernardino to do more to ad­dress its vi­o­lence prob­lems — said that by ty­ing fund­ing for crime re­duc­tion to im­mi­gra­tion ef­forts, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment does a dis­ser­vice to a com­mu­nity in real need of help.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ba­si­cally telling its own cit­i­zens, ‘We’ll deny you fund­ing for some­thing you’re ob­vi­ously in des­per­ate need of just to ad­vance our own agenda of crack­ing down on im­mi­grants,’ ” he said. “I think it’s a bad sit­u­a­tion for the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of San Bernardino and com­pletely un­fair for the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity that is not even the root cause of the ur­ban gun vi­o­lence that takes place.”

Pablo Martinez Mon­si­vais AP

U.S. ATTY. GEN. Jeff Ses­sions has pushed to crack down on so-called sanc­tu­ary cities.

Gina Fer­azzi Los Angeles Times

KYLE RO­DRIGUEZ, 19, lights a can­dle for his brother, who was shot and killed last year in San Bernardino. The city strug­gles with vi­o­lent crime and lim­ited re­sources, and has looked to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for help.

Gosia Wozniacka As­so­ci­ated Press

THE PO­LICE chief of Stock­ton, which was also named by the Jus­tice Depart­ment, said he was dis­ap­pointed by the use of fed­eral crime aid as po­lit­i­cal lever­age.

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