DOJ Warning Mobilizes Some Immigrant Sanctuary Cities

by | April 24, 2017

By Lesley Clark

California cities are mobilizing to fight the Trump administration's effort to strip federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities, which do not enforce federal immigration policy.

Even as the Justice Department on Friday advised eight local governments and the state of California that they were at risk of losing federal dollars if they don't cooperate, several cities had already directed their lobbyists to oppose such efforts.

Oakland, San Francisco and Pasadena have identified the sanctuary city funding cutoff as a lobbying priority in Washington, federal records show.

"While Pasadena is not a sanctuary city, the city does not believe others should be penalized," said William Boyer, a spokesman for the city. The city council has declared it will "oppose efforts to deny federal funding to so-called 'sanctuary cities,' or communities that may not have the resources to enforce federal immigration laws."

The letters Friday were the most overt measure the administration has taken to date to pull funding, though Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, has also asked lawmakers to include language curtailing money for sanctuary cities in a must-pass budget bill.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that "greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities" was a priority for the administration in the budget bill, along with money for a border wall. Congressional Democrats oppose both provisions.

Spicer would not say whether Trump would refuse to sign a spending bill _ and possibly trigger a government shutdown _ if Congress does not include the measures in legislation that must pass by next Friday, when the legislation that is now funding the government expires.

"We're working with members on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to find a way forward," Spicer said. "I think we feel confident that that will happen, that we will avoid a shutdown."

Trump, too, sounded optimistic in the Oval Office, saying to questions about negotiations aimed at avoiding a shutdown that "I think we're in good shape."

In California, Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a strong rebuke to the demand letter from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' department.

"California has a right to determine how it will provide for the safety and general welfare of its residents and to safeguard their constitutional rights," Becerra said in a statement. "Fear-mongering and falsehoods will not intimidate our state into compromising our values. Federal threats to take away resources from law enforcement or our people in an attempt to bully states and localities into carrying out the new administration's unsound deportation plan are reckless and jeopardize public safety."

Statewide, roughly $20 million in federal law enforcement grant funding is at risk this year, according to Tracie Cone, a spokeswoman for the Board of State and Community Corrections.

The same letter from the Justice Department was sent to officials in Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Cook County, Ill.

The lobbying effort by local communities against the measure is long-standing. Nearly a dozen municipalities have opposed a bill routinely introduced by former Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that would have stripped some federal funding from cities that shield workers who are in the U.S. illegally from federal immigration officials.

Cities warn that their full cooperation with federal immigration authorities could dissuade immigrants in their communities from reporting crimes and cooperating with the police.

Reno, Nev., also authorized its federal lobbyist to oppose mandates on police to enforce federal immigration law.

"The city of Reno strongly believes that immigrants strengthen the community economically and culturally, and welcomes their contributions to society," said Lauren Ball, a spokeswoman for the city.

Other cities have gone further: Seattle has filed a lawsuit challenging a Trump administration executive order that threatens to withhold federal grants from the so-called sanctuary cities. In Maryland, the city of Hyattsville voted Monday to declare itself an official "sanctuary."

But Miami-Dade County, which got one of the Department of Justice letters, in February pre-emptively sided with the Trump administration, approving a resolution pledging that its Corrections Department would honor detainees from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Department of Justice cited the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which helps states and localities with criminal justice needs, in its letter. It estimates that the state of California could risk as much as $18 million, Clark County, Nev., as much as $975,604 and Miami-Dade $481,347.

(Angela Hart of The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.)

(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau