DOJ Threatens 23 Immigrant Sanctuary Jurisdictions With Subpoenas

by | January 24, 2018 AT 4:00 PM

By Kate Irby

Twenty-three cities and states are facing subpoenas if they do not prove they are complying with federal immigration laws regarding sanctuary cities in a "timely manner," the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Letters were sent to each of the jurisdictions, which include California, New York City and Chicago, on Wednesday, demanding they provide documentation that proves they are not violating federal law. That law _ referred to as Section 1373 _ prohibits state and local governments from standing in the way of their employees communicating with Immigration and Naturalization Service officials on the citizenship or immigration status of any individual.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is threatening to pull federal grants from cities that do not show compliance, though multiple federal courts have blocked President Donald Trump's administration from withholding those funds from so-called sanctuary cities, which Sessions defines as those that "willfully" violate Section 1373.

"I continue to urge all jurisdictions under review to reconsider policies that place the safety of their communities and their residents at risk," Sessions said. "Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law. We have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government's immigration enforcement _ enough is enough."

The Justice Department previously sent letters to the 23 jurisdictions in either April or November asking for proof they were not violating the federal law; 29 were contacted in November and nine in April. A senior DOJ official said in a call Wednesday that inclusion on this second list indicates the jurisdiction either did not respond or responded inadequately. Other jurisdictions that received earlier letters but aren't included in the current round are either still under review or have cooperated with DOJ officials so far.

So-called sanctuary cities frequently argue that Section 1373 is narrow, saying it doesn't require them to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents but only says they can't restrict employees from doing so.

Local laws typically tiptoe around language in Section 1373. For example, a California law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October has a provision stating: "A law enforcement official shall have discretion to cooperate with immigration authorities only if doing so would not violate any federal, state, or local law, or local policy, and where permitted by the California Values Act."

The letter sent to the jurisdictions requests "all documents reflecting any orders, directives, instructions, or guidance to your law enforcement employees (including, but not limited to, police officers, correctional officers, and contract employees), whether formal or informal, that were distributed, produced, and/or in effect during the relevant timeframe, regarding whether and how these employees may, or may not, communicate with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or their agents, whether directly or indirectly."

"For example, if there's a city council request to a police chief or sheriff to issue a directive to officers not to cooperate with ICE agents," then that would fall under DOJ's demands, the senior official said.

When asked how jurisdictions could provide documents that prove they are not doing something, the senior DOJ official said he understands it's a "complex issue."

If a jurisdiction fails to respond or respond sufficiently in a "timely manner," DOJ plans to issue subpoenas to obtain the information, the senior official said. If those documents fail to prove the jurisdictions are in compliance with Section 1373, DOJ may force the return of certain federal grants to those jurisdictions or withhold them in the future. DOJ specifically pointed to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.

The 23 jurisdictions under threat of subpoena are:


Cook County, Ill.

New York City

State of California

Albany, N.Y.

Berkeley, Calif.

Bernalillo County, N.M.

Burlington, Vt.

City and County of Denver

Fremont, Calif.

Jackson, Miss.

King County, Wash.

Lawrence, Mass.

City of Los Angeles

Louisville Metro, Ky.

Monterey County, Calif.

Sacramento County, Calif.

City and County of San Francisco

Sonoma County, Calif.

Watsonville, Calif.

West Palm Beach, Fla.

State of Illinois

State of Oregon

(c)2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau