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Sessions Remains Skeptical About Cities’ Immigration Law Claims

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not giving potential sanctuary cities the benefit of the doubt over claims they comply with a key federal immigration law.

Sessions confirmed Thursday the Department of Justice (DOJ) has received responses from 10 jurisdictions asked to submit legal analyses of how they are following 8 U.S.C. 1373, a law that prohibits local and state governments from blocking communication with federal immigration authorities. All assert they are in compliance, but Sessions says DOJ will “examine these claims carefully.”

“It is not enough to assert compliance, the jurisdictions must actually be in compliance,” Sessions said in a statement. “Sanctuary cities put the lives and well-being of their residents at risk by shielding criminal illegal aliens from federal immigration authorities.”

In a letter sent to several sanctuary jurisdictions in April, Sessions asked local officials for proof they are cooperating with immigration enforcement and warned that they would risk losing federal grants if that were not the case. He later clarified DOJ’s stance on what constitutes a sanctuary city, more narrowly defining the term as noncompliance with 8 U.S.C. 1373. 

DOJ’s sanctuary designation did not include those cities that refuse to honor immigration detainers, but several major jurisdictions fell within the revised definition. The April letter went to California Board of State and Community Corrections, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York and Cook County, Ill.

Sessions has threatened to withhold criminal justice grants from those cities and any others that move to limit information sharing with immigration agents. Going forward, local jurisdictions will have to be certified as compliant with Section 1373 before they are eligible to receive DOJ funding.

“Any jurisdiction that fails to certify compliance with Section 1373 will be ineligible to receive such awards,” Sessions wrote in the May memo on sanctuary cities. “This certification requirement will apply to any existing grant administered by the Office of Justice Programs … and to future grants for which the Department is statutorily authorized to impose such a condition.”

In one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump came down hard on sanctuary cities, signing an executive order that said the jurisdictions would not be “eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes” by Sessions or Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

A federal judge blocked the order in April, ruling that the government could not punish a local jurisdiction by withholding federal funds unrelated to immigration enforcement or criminal justice. DOJ has argued that Sessions addressed that concern in his May memo, which limited the potential denial of funds to DOJ or DHS grant programs.

Congressional Republicans are attempting to settle the legal dispute through a bill called the “No Sanctuary For Criminals Act.” The proposal, which passed the House in late June, would expand the definition of sanctuary cities and establish which sources of federal funding could be denied to those jurisdictions.

The “No Sanctuary” bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate after the July 4 recess.

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