By Franco Ordonez
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned governments in places like Sacramento, Calif., and Miami Monday that the Justice Department will punish sanctuary communities that do not cooperate with federal immigration laws.
The Trump administration threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal funding from communities that don't work with immigration agents.
Sessions said cities and states that don't comply with federal immigration laws risk losing their shares of $4.1 billion in Justice Department grants. He said the department would require cities seeking the grants to certify that they are cooperating with immigration authorities as a condition for receiving the awards.
Sacramento County, for example, received $315 million in Office of Justice Programs grants in 2016. Miami-Dade County in Florida receives nearly $6 million in such grants.
"I urge our nation's states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies," Sessions said. "Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez criticized the Justice Department requirement as undermining local law enforcement by threatening to take away money that helps keep criminals off the streets.
"This administration not only is trying to bully law enforcement and make them ICE agents, but they're trying to bully immigrant families," Perez said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
President Donald Trump promised during his campaign to get tough on illegal immigration. Once sworn into office, he quickly took aim at sanctuary cities when he signed an executive order threatening to cut federal grants to counties and cities that don't fully cooperate with ICE.
Soon after the order, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez was one of the first city leaders to order county jails to comply with federal immigration-detention requests. Other mayors, including Sacramento's Darrell Steinberg, vowed to fight the Trump administration. Steinberg visited Washington this month and challenged officials on their plan to withhold federal funding from cities.
"You do not recoil from a bully," Steinberg said during a meeting with McClatchy.
Many police forces object to enforcing immigration laws, arguing that it increases fear among immigrants, who then won't report crimes or assist police in tracking suspects.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security released the administration's first report on law enforcement agencies that had not cooperated detention requests from ICE. Sacramento was among them.
The report didn't cite Miami.
Sessions questioned public support for sanctuary cities, citing a Harvard-Harris Poll conducted in February for The Hill newspaper. That poll found that 80 percent of Americans think that cities that arrest for crimes immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally should be required to turn them over to federal authorities.
A Quinnipiac University poll released around the same time found that 53 percent of respondents thought that immigrants here illegally should be deported only for "serious crimes."
"The American people want and deserve a lawful immigration system that keeps us safe and serves our national interest. This expectation is reasonable, and our government has a duty to meet it. And we will meet it," Sessions said.
(c)2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau