DOJ Threatens Sanctuary Cities With Lurid Letter

After answering questions, Attorney General Jeff Sessions leaves a press conference after touring the U.S.-Mexico border with border officials Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Nogales, Ariz.  Sessions announced making immigration enforcement a key Justice Department priority, saying he will speed up deportations of immigrants in the country illegally who were convicted of federal crimes. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/AP

The Justice Department wrote to eight cities Friday afternoon that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, demanding they submit proof of compliance with federal immigration law and threatening their federal grant money if they fail to do so.

In a statement accompanying the letter to Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, and Sacramento, the Justice Department erroneously equates the cities’ policies limiting information sharing with federal immigration officials with a spike in crime in those areas.

“Many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime,” the statement reads. “The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels. New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s “soft on crime” stance. And just several weeks ago in California’s Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next.”

The letter does not mention that violent crime nationwide is at its lowest point in decades, or that immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Why these eight cities were singled out of the nearly 600 sanctuary jurisdictions across the country is unclear.

Milwaukee officials pushed back Friday against the Justice Department’s accusations, telling local reporters that the city is complying with federal law and disputing the DOJ’s implication that immigrants bring higher crime to the cities where they reside.

“Milwaukee County has its challenges but they are not caused by illegal immigration,” said County Executive Chris Abele.

New York City officials similarly blasted the DOJ’s move, calling it “sad but not surprising.”

“The Trump Administration has chosen fear mongering over facts,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “The truth is, New York is the safest big city in the nation precisely because we protect and support our immigrant communities. Jeff Sessions’ ridiculous comments to the contrary are dangerously out of touch and do a disservice to our City and our entire country.”

Since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly vowed to strip sanctuary cities of their federal funding—particularly, their Justice Department grants that support local programs to tackle human trafficking, sexual assault, gang violence, mental health, gun crimes and safety issues.

Many legal experts believe this would violate states’ 10th Amendment rights, as well as a number of Supreme Court rulings that held that the federal government cannot coerce local governments to adopt a certain policy by withholding federal funding.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.
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