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Sessions, Homan Are Threatening Sanctuary Cities — But Law So Far Has Been on Immigrants’ Side

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions hates immigrants, so it’s been no surprise that he also hates so-called “sanctuary cities” — places that allow immigrants to live in peace as long as they don’t commit any crimes. Sessions and the Trump Administration have tried to implement an executive order against sanctuary cities, threatened local officials with federal defunding if they didn’t toe the federal line on sanctuary cities, and tried to sneak a sanctuary cities maneuver Trump’s FY 2018 budget proposal.

This week, Sessions is going after immigrant-friendly cities again, this time by threatening the federal funds that many cities rely on for law enforcement, known as Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. As the Daily Beast reported, starting next year, cities will have to follow three stipulations to qualify for the grants:

First, they must let ICE officers have access to their detention centers. Second, they must not block their law enforcement officers from sharing information with ICE about the immigration status of people they arrest. And third, they must give ICE forty-eight hours’ notice before releasing anyone who ICE has a detainer on.

Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan echoed the Trump Administration’s targeting of sanctuary cities by threatening to persecute city officials, claiming that he would try to charge them with violating anti-smuggling laws. As the Washington Times wrote:

[Homan] said he won’t be chased out of “sanctuaries” and pointedly raised a section of federal code — 8 U.S.C. 1324 — that outlaws attempts to “conceal, harbor or shield” illegal immigrants.

“I think these sanctuary cities need to make sure they’re on the right side of the law. They need to look at this. Because I am,” he said.

Asked whether that means he will recommend prosecutions, he said, “We’re looking at what options we have.”

Sessions’ and Homans’ threats are looming, and real — but repeatedly, the law has stood on the side of immigrants and sanctuary cities, and against the claims of hardliners like Sessions. Just this week, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that state officials had “no authority” to honor ICE detainers — one of Sessions’ stipulations for federal funding. The Trump Administration’s executive order against sanctuary cities was struck down in April, and commentators have noted the reasons why cities and states can’t be forced to obey federal mandates with a “gun to the head”.

Sessions, Homan, and the Trump Administration can keep blustering, but the reasons to oppose them are real. Sanctuary cities are safer, immigrants and non-immigrants both do better when all communities can trust the police, and policies that force local police to hand immigrants over to ICE just aren’t constitutional. It’s Sessions and Homan who are on the wrong side of the law — not to mention on the wrong side of the kind of federal overreach conservatives typically adulate.

At least one city leader has already fired back. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in response to Sessions, told Buzzfeed that:

we will not change what we are doing and our values are not for sale. [Sessions’] decision was more of the kind of ideological rhetoric that actually makes us less safe. What they’re asking the city to do is in violation of the Constitution.