AG threat­ens cities with aid loss

Ses­sions cites fail­ure to co­op­er­ate with im­mi­gra­tion agents

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - SADIE GURMAN AND RUS­SELL CON­TR­ERAS In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Amy Taxin and Juliet Linderman of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

AL­BU­QUERQUE, N.M. — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions took new steps Thurs­day to pun­ish cities he be­lieves are not co­op­er­at­ing with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents, while lo­cal au­thor­i­ties 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 that they would not be el­i­gi­ble for a pro­gram that pro­vides money to fight drug traf­fick­ing and gang crime un­less they give fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties ac­cess to jails and no­tify agents be­fore re­leas­ing in­mates wanted on im­mi­gra­tion vi­o­la­tions.

Bal­ti­more; Al­bu­querque, N.M.; and Stock­ton and San Bernardino, Calif., all 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. “That will ul­ti­mately make all of us safer — es­pe­cially law en­force­ment on our streets.”

The threat marks Ses­sions’ lat­est ef­fort to force lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to help fed­eral agents de­tain and de­port un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants 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, sim­i­lar to how pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions have held back high­way funds dur­ing de­bates over the speed limit and drink­ing age.

But cities said they were un­sure of why they were tar­geted.

In a let­ter to Ses­sions, Repub­li­can Al­bu­querque Mayor Richard Berry de­nied that New Mex­ico’s largest city is a sanc­tu­ary for im­mi­grants 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.

Peter Si­mon­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union in New Mex­ico, called the de­mands “a bul­ly­ing tac­tic.”

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.

In San Bernardino, of­fi­cers book any­one they ar­rest into jails that are run by the county, not the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia city of 216,000 peo­ple, Po­lice Chief Jar­rod Bur­guan said.

“The city of San Bernardino has never taken any for­mal act to de­clare it­self a sanc­tu­ary city,” Bur­guan said. “Our poli­cies have been very, very con­sis­tent over the years.”

Stock­ton Po­lice Chief Eric Jones said his of­fi­cers also book sus­pects into a county-run fa­cil­ity and are re­spon­si­ble for fight­ing vi­o­lent crime, not en­forc­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws.

“That does not mean we don’t work with our other fed­eral part­ners, but that is just not a func­tion of ours,” he said.

Nor do po­lice en­force im­mi­gra­tion laws in Bal­ti­more, where ar­restees are taken to a jail run by the state, said An­thony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Cather­ine Pugh. The state says it ad­heres to fed­eral poli­cies on im­mi­gra­tion in its de­ten­tion sys­tem.

“We are re­ceiv­ing tremen­dous fed­eral sup­port for the vi­o­lence-re­duc­tion ac­tions, and we wouldn’t want any­thing to de­ter the progress we hope to make on that front,” McCarthy said.

Ses­sions has pledged to make fight­ing im­mi­gra­tion and street crime the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s top pri­or­ity, but the strat­egy is putting him at odds with some city lead­ers, who say the best way to fight crime and build com­mu­nity trust is to keep lo­cal po­lice out of fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion mat­ters.

Last week, Ses­sions told cities that they must meet the same con­di­tions or lose out on mil­lions of dol­lars from a separate grant pro­gram that helps po­lice de­part­ments pay for ev­ery­thing from bul­letre­sis­tant vests to body cam­eras, a move that made some lo­cal of­fi­cials more de­fi­ant.

In the four let­ters, the Jus­tice Depart­ment asked the cities’ po­lice de­part­ments to show proof of their com­pli­ance by Aug. 18.

In Al­bu­querque, im­mi­grant stu­dent ac­tivists said the let­ter was part of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s broader at­tack on im­mi­grants.

“It is a vi­sion of ter­ror for fam­i­lies like mine,” said Gabriela Her­nan­dez, South­west or­ga­nizer for United We Dream.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment in June tapped 12 cities to re­ceive aid through the Pub­lic Safety Part­ner­ship, and of­fi­cials said the four cities tar­geted Thurs­day had ex­pressed in­ter­est in the next chance at par­tic­i­pat­ing. Cities were cho­sen based on higher-than-av­er­age rates of vi­o­lence and will­ing­ness to re­ceive the help and train­ing.

Cities that want to be in­volved go­ing for­ward will have to show they al­low un­fet­tered com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween po­lice and fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties, give agents ac­cess to jails in or­der to ques­tion im­mi­grants and pro­vide agents with 48 hours of no­tice when un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants are about to be re­leased.

AP/CHRIS CARL­SON

A San Bernardino, Calif., res­i­dent is pic­tured on Thurs­day. San Bernardino’s po­lice chief said the city has taken no for­mal steps to de­clare it­self a sanc­tu­ary city.

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