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Sessions Capitulates on Defunding Sanctuary Cities On Monday, and then Launches a Sneak Attack on Tuesday

 

Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions seemed to back down on his crusade to defund so-called “sanctuary cities” — jurisdictions that prioritize public safety for all, rather than deportation for all. In effect, he capitulated to a San Francisco court order and admitted that his threats to defund such cities were toothless. Here’s why: 1) the current statute is so narrow that it applies to virtually no jurisdictions; and 2) the consequences of not obeying it would be negligible.

Today, however, Phil Wolgin and other policy analysts at the Center for American Progress (CAP) took out their magnifying glasses and found proposed changes to the relevant statutory language buried deep in the voluminous budget document released by the Trump Administration. The plan is to use the federal budget to radically change the statute in order to put saber-tooth requirements into the law. If approved, it would impose much harsher mandates on jurisdictions and turn each of them into holding pens for Trump’s deportation force.

The background

It all revolves around 8 U.S.C. 1373, which currently is very narrow in scope. It says that jurisdictions cannot prohibit local officials from communicating a person’s immigration status to federal enforcement authorities. Just about every city, county, and state is in full compliance with this provision. What cities that want to encourage trust among immigrants and police do is prohibit their employees from asking for the information in the first place. The Sessions sneak attack is to try to make substantial changes to section 1373 to force localities to mandate information-sharing and that local jurisdictions hold people with ICE detainer requests — despite the fact that many courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional for local jurisdictions to hold people until ICE gets around to picking people up from local jails.

As Phil Wolgin tweeted:

If enacted and upheld, this would be a way for Trump and Sessions to bring about an anti-immigrant mass-deportation dystopia, where cities and counties across the country are forced to hold undocumented immigrants for ICE pickup and deportation, at the risk of losing federal funding.

Trump’s budget is “dead on arrival”

The good news is that Sessions is unlikely to get his way as part of the budget for two reasons: 1) Republican lawmakers have already declared Trump’s budget “dead on arrival;” and 2) Sessions’ devious attempt to change the law has been exposed by CAP. The sneaky Sessions ploy has been brought from the back pages of the budget document into the sunlight, where it is likely to be shrivel up and die.

If members of Congress can keep the Administration from changing 8 U.S.C. 1373 (or similar ploys that may be cooked up in the future), Sessions will be stuck with a definition of sanctuary cities that protects jurisdictions that put public safety first and oppose mass deportation. Cities and counties will not be forced to unconstitutionally rob immigrants of due process, and immigrants will be able to trust their local law enforcement. That makes these communities safer for everyone.