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Earlier this week, Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s plan to start cutting federal funding off from cities with immigrant-friendly policies. It’s a stupid move that stands counter to improving public safety, and some three dozen cities have already announced lawsuits over the threat.
But it’s not just big, progressive cities that are opposing Trump on this announcement. The Fraternal Order of Police, one of Trump’s biggest supporters in the election, told the administration that a crackdown against cities could hurt police departments in those areas, and that the union would oppose any move to restrict federal funding for police.
And in Sioux County, Iowa, where 81% of voters went for Trump, and which appeared on a published list of localities that Trump tried to name and shame for being friendly to immigrants, Sheriff Dan Altena says that they’re just following the law. As he explains below, being undocumented is a civil — not criminal — offense. When the police find someone who is undocumented, it is illegal to hold that person until ICE can pick them up, unless they’ve committed some other crime. As N’West Iowa wrote:
“We see some of the federal government saying they’re going to take away some federal monies if we’re being a sanctuary city, but we don’t feel we’re a sanctuary county because we’re fully complying with ICE,” Altena said. “We contact ICE partially because we need the correct information on the person. The only thing we don’t do is hold them on the detainer request, which hundreds of counties across the U.S. are not doing. We legally can’t. It would be a huge liability for the county maybe criminally and civilly.”
Kunstle said if a person is only suspected of being an illegal immigrant, they’re not violating state law.
“They’re violating federal law, which is the responsibility of federal agents,” Kunstle said. “In a sense, ICE wants the state to do their work for them. We hold people but only as the state law provides.”
Altena said the sheriff’s department has received pressure from some county residents who think that because the county is not holding people in ICE detainer requests, the county is letting criminals go.
“We can’t legally hold someone in jail unless they’ve committed a crime,” Altena said. “What these groups don’t understand is that just because somebody is in our country and they’re illegal, we can’t just arrest them. No. 1, we don’t have the authority to randomly go picking up people who are illegal. They still have rights. I can’t hold somebody in our jail unless we have probable cause that they’ve committed a crime or there’s a warrant out for their arrest.”
The Sheriff also takes the time to call out the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant hate group, which he says is behind the administration’s push to go after immigrants:
This organization is of the belief that everyone who is here illegally should be shipped out. Logistically, I don’t think that’s possible. Through our 2008 county task force meeting, we learned there are a lot of people in Sioux County that are illegal. It’s hard to find out who they are and it’s hard to deal with that too, what impact that would have if they were all taken away.
Trump pretty obviously doesn’t understand immigration policy, and Jeff Sessions — who should know better — appears to be pretending not to. But the law is on the side of the cities here, and insisting on persecuting them could turn out to be yet another big Trump mistake — just like health care, the Muslim ban parts 1 and 2, the border wall, etc. As a Denver Post editorial said this week:
We suggest that glossing over the legal complexities, threatening to hurt the unfortunate — while also threatening to pull resources from police officers — would seem a poor stick to use when one’s goal is to increase public safety.
Even if your boss’ approval rating is under water.