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Strong Resistance to Anti-Immigrant Scapegoating of Trump and Sessions

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If the Trump White House was hoping that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ anti-immigrant scapegoating and newest threats against so-called “sanctuary cities” would help the Administration turn the page on a rough week and intimidate local leaders and jurisdictions into backing down, they can’t be happy with the reaction and resistance on display.

Elected officials, law enforcement voices, issue experts, and independent observers are instead blasting the Trump Administration and AG Sessions for their transparent attempt to demonize immigrants and play politics with public safety. Among the voices speaking out include:

Law Enforcement and Judicial Voices

Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general: “Despite what Attorney General Sessions implied this afternoon, state and local governments and law enforcement have broad authority under the Constitution to not participate in federal immigration enforcement … As my office’s legal guidance makes clear, President Trump lacks the constitutional authority to broadly cut off funding to states and cities just because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families. Public safety depends on trust between law enforcement and those they bravely serve; yet, again and again, President Trump’s draconian policies only serve to undercut that trust.”

Travis County, TX County Judge Sarah Eckhardt: This is “thin cloaking for political retribution … I am frustrated that Travis County resources and attention are continually diverted from public safety to address unfounded politically motivated allegations of wrongdoing … The section of federal law cited by Attorney General Sessions has been in our federal grants for many years.”

Jonathan Thompson, CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association: “The vast majority of sheriffs … want to cooperate with ICE, want to cooperate with DHS. But they want to do so in a way that is constitutional and protects the rights of everyone involved, including victims. Especially victims.”

State and Local Elected Officials

Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City: “President Trump’s latest threat changes nothing. We will remain a city welcoming of immigrants who have helped make our city the safest big city in the nation.”

Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles: “[T]here are constitutional protections against the kind of punitive, counterproductive actions proposed today by the attorney general … Slashing funds for first responders, for our port and airport, for counter terrorism, crime-fighting and community-building serves no one.”

Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle: “As I’ve said, I’m willing to risk losing every penny of federal funding to stand by our commitment to protect everyone in our community.”

Betsy Hodges, Mayor of Minneapolis: Our city has “worked too hard and too long…to make sure that everyone feels safe calling the police … I will not allow the president or anyone from his administration to get in the way of that relationship.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, through spokeswoman Lauren Hitt: “The attorney general’s comments today are a direct attack on public safety … Undocumented residents and their family members are much less likely to call law enforcement  when they are a witness to or a victim of a crime if they know that the police will turn them into ICE. If we are forced to change Philadelphia’s policy on this, all of our residents will be less safe.”

Joseph Curtatone, Mayor of Somerville, MA: Pledged to remain a “sanctuary city” and said, “We’re not going to tear a family apart because someone was pulled over for a broken tail light.”

Joe McDermott, King County (WA) Council Chair: Reiterated that the county and city of Seattle are in compliance with the law and stated, “It’s more empty threats and last week we saw them shaming people, shaming jurisdictions, and now it’s empty promises to the American people and empty threats as well.”

Kevin de León, California State Senate president pro tempore: This is “nothing short of blackmail … Instead of making us safer, the Trump administration is spreading fear and promoting race-based scapegoating. Their gun-to-the-head method to force resistant cities and counties to participate in Trump’s inhumane and counterproductive mass-deportation is unconstitutional and will fail.”

Media Observers

Radley Balko, libertarian writer for the Washington Post: “If Trump truly trusted local police, if he truly wanted to support them and give them the tools they need to fight crime, he’d take their word on this. But Trump is certain that immigrants cause crime. Again, all the evidence says otherwise. But he himself is certain of it. So Trump’s administration is publicly shaming police departments who think otherwise, and threatening to cut funding to any agency or city that doesn’t bend to his will. This isn’t supporting law enforcement. It’s open hostility toward law enforcement.”

David Kurtz, Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo: “Perhaps the White House had planned all along for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make an appearance at today’s press briefing to rail against sanctuary cities. But the timing is consistent with what I’ve long feared will be the impulse for the Trump administration: When the going gets rough (failed Obamacare repeal, low poll numbers, etc), it will fall back on appeals to racism and xenophobia to regain political footing.”

Dana Milbank, Washington Post columnist: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions showed up unannounced in the White House briefing room to attempt something President Trump very much needed after Friday’s health-care debacle: a change of subject. Sessions, accompanied by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, revived one of the reliable applause lines from the campaign, a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” harboring illegal immigrants … But for all the sturm und drang, Sessions didn’t have much to announce … Such policy anticlimaxes are becoming routine in Trump world. Tough rhetoric, big promises — and no substance. Trump looks more and more like a man without a plan.

Advocates and Experts

Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, “Despite the Trump administration’s bluster and threats, the federal government cannot coerce local police into becoming deportation agents, and should not try to scare local authorities into taking illegal actions that undermine public safety and subject them to liability. Police and municipal officials have been sticking by their decisions to do what’s best for the safety of their communities, and we will continue to stand with them in court to defend those lawful choices.”

Kamal Essaheb, director of policy and advocacy with the National Immigration Law Center: “In typical fashion, they are trying to manipulate the news cycle to distract and divert attention elsewhere.”

Gregory Chen, Director of Advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA): Yesterday’s announcement is designed to “intimidate the hundreds of localities across the country which are in fact complying with the law.”

Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at Center for American Progress: “This is not really about enforcing the law, this is about driving policy through bullying and fear mongering.”