Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to sanctuary cities such as Denver is misguided.
We get it that President Donald Trump could use some distraction these days, but Monday’s comments from Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding so-called sanctuary cities miss the mark and run counter to the administration’s goal of improving public safety.
Sessions unfairly singled out Denver as a city in need of federal punishment for its handling of a Mexican man in the country illegally who, released lawfully from jail, now faces charges in a fatal shooting.
From the White House, Sessions reminded the nation that Trump rose to power on his promise to send all the “bad hombres” back to Mexico. After all, when your boss’ presidential campaign faces an active federal investigation and he just saw his signature promise to repeal and replace Obamacare meet with bitter humiliation, you might find yourself sent in to change the subject.
Sessions gave it a shot. He threatened to strip additional money from cities that don’t follow Trump’s executive order of two months ago regarding illegal immigration. But in doing so, Sessions should have taken more care with the facts.
Denver police say Ever Valles, 19, was involved in the deadly shooting in February of Tim Cruz, 32, during a robbery at a light rail station. A big problem for all of us is that Valles had been in jail on serious charges but federal immigration agents missed the chance to deport him. They did so because of a significant legal conflict that should be resolved.
Sessions asserts that Denver jailers ignored a “detainer” placed on Valles while he was being held. Such a detainer would have asked jailers to hold Valles for 48 hours. But there was no detainer, because the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency knows that Denver officials follow guidance from the courts that says jailers cannot hold a suspect who gains bail. So ICE sent instead a request for advanced notice concerning Valles’ release. While jailers attempted to honor that request, ICE didn’t have enough time to act, and Valles went free.
Make no mistake, Valles is a bad actor. A gang member, his charges when he was picked up in October include stealing a car and illegally possessing a gun. Reforms are clearly needed to make sure criminals don’t run free in these kinds of cases.
That said, sharing information with ICE, as Denver did, would seem to comply with the section of U.S. code Sessions cited in his sanctuary-city threats. Yet the attorney general’s warning comes on top of Trump’s threat to yank other federal monies from cities that don’t see eye-to-eye with his executive order. Given that Denver is one of 35 cities to sue over that order, the Valles case gives the administration leverage. The cities are suing in large measure because the Trump order is creating a chilling effect that is keeping victims of crime fearful of coming forward for fear of deportation.
All in all, according to preliminary estimates from 2016, Denver stands to lose more than $5 million in police assistance and $163 million in federal money that props up the safety net for the less fortunate in our city.
We suggest that glossing over the legal complexities, threatening to hurt the unfortunate — while also threatening to pull resources from police officers — would seem a poor stick to use when one’s goal is to increase public safety.
Even if your boss’ approval rating is under water.