US ‘sanctuary cities’ refuse to turn in illegal migrants, even if it costs them grants

'We are going to become this administration's worst nightmare,' speaker of New York City council tells municipal officials from major US cities.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions warns so-called sanctuary cities against not co-operating with federal immigration authorities on March 27, 2017. Shawn Thew / EPA
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions warns so-called sanctuary cities against not co-operating with federal immigration authorities on March 27, 2017. Shawn Thew / EPA

NEW YORK // Leaders of US cities are vowing to intensify resistance to president Donald Trump’s promised crackdown on so-called “sanctuary cities”.

Attorney-general Jeff Sessions warned on Monday that US cities turning a blind eye to illegal migrants could jeopardise billions in federal funding, and demanded that sanctuary cities across the county do more to turn illegal immigrants over to the federal authorities for deportation.

But at a gathering of municipal officials from urban centres such as San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia, Melissa Mark Viverito, the speaker of New York city council warned, “We are going to become this administration’s worst nightmare.”

They promised to continue blocking cooperation between city police departments and federal immigration authorities, and to prevent federal agents from accessing their schools and school records. They are also considering employing a rarely-used law which enables them to investigate federal immigration practices.

Mr Sessions has issued a dire warning to municipal leaders who embrace policies that help protect illegal immigrants from deportation.

Such policies, he said, “endanger the lives of every American” and the White House could withhold or claw back funding from any city that “willfully violates” federal migration law.

“The Department of Justice has a duty to enforce our nation’s laws, including our immigration laws,” Mr Sessions said. “Unfortunately, some states and cities have adopted policies designed to frustrate this enforcement of immigration laws.”

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To qualify for any of the US$4.1 billion (Dh15.1bn) available in grant money from the central government, cities would have to prove they are complying with certain laws which allow information sharing with immigration officials.

“I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies,” Mr Sessions said.

The administration last week reported more than 200 cases of immigrants recently released from local jails before federal agents could intervene and Mr Sessions cited the case of local authorities releasing two immigrants who were wanted for murder by federal agents.

But city leaders insisted such examples are the exception. Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym said immigrants in the country illegally are part of the “fabric of America”. Far from being dangerous, they were the ones in most danger because of exploitation and discrimination. Some landlords have already used president Trump’s hardline immigration rhetoric to expel immigrant tenants, she added.

Some officials told of immigrants in their communities being seized by federal immigration agents at their children’s schools and at courthouses as they were appearing as victims of other crimes.

There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally. There is no evidence that crime rates among immigrants are any higher than native-born Americans.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights accused the attorney-general of trying to “create a police state” Lourdes Rosado, who leads the New York attorney general’s civil rights bureau, insisted municipalities have the legal right to resist what she called immigration overreach by the new White House.

“Sessions makes it sound as if we’re breaking the law. But the point is, it’s voluntary whether or not to cooperate,” she said.

Police chiefs in some cities with large migrant populations have already warned that the policy could poison community relations.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said, “Slashing funds for first responders, for our port and airport, for counterterrorism, crime fighting and community building serves no one – not this city, not the federal government, not the American people.”

Ed Lee, mayor of San Francisco insisted, “Sanctuary cities are safer cities.” His spokeswoman Deirdre Hussey said, “When immigrants can enrol their children in school, access health care for vaccinations, and report crimes, our city and county is safer. It is shocking that the US attorney general, the nation’s top law enforcement official, does not agree with this basic principle of public safety.”

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

Published: March 28, 2017 04:00 AM


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