At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions’ threat to sanc­tu­ary cities such as Den­ver is mis­guided.

The Denver Post - - NEWS -

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.

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