Jurisdictions put on notice by the Trump Administration that they must prove compliance with federal immigration laws or risk losing some federal grants have until the month’s end to submit such documentation.
Most of the 10 jurisdictions singled out by the Justice Department are still formulating responses, with several expected to submit certification letters within the coming week. But at least two jurisdictions, Connecticut and New Orleans, have already sent responses to the Justice Department, providing clues as to how officials will seek to back up claims they aren’t thwarting federal immigration agents efforts to locate and deport illegal immigrants.
The Justice Department in April sent formal notice to jurisdictions that they were potentially in violation of federal law, U.S.C. 1373, which bans local governments from enacting policies that restrict or prohibit communications with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
Many so-called “sanctuary cities” reacted with surprise, saying they didn’t have laws on the books that prevented such communication and that when illegal immigrants are arrested, their data is automatically submitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In New Orleans’ letter to the Justice Department, officials point to the city police department’s own policy on immigration status, which was adopted as part of a DOJ-negotiated consent decree, as proof of compliance with the law.
The New Orleans Police Department’s policy “restricts NOPD from engaging in enforcement of immigration laws but specifically includes an exception for sharing immigration status in formation with ICE,” wrote City Attorney Rebecca Dietz in the letter.
She notes that others, including the city’s consent decree monitor and Louisiana’s Attorney General believe that New Orleans is in compliance with Section 1373.
Connecticut officials highlight a state law adopted in 2013, that was meant to provide a uniform policy for state and local law enforcement agencies to adhere to when presented with a civil immigration detainer for a person in their custody.
The law outlines instances under which law enforcement should honor an civil immigration detainer request. Once it is determined if the person should be detained or released, the law requires the law enforcement officer to notify immigration authorities.
“The notification is required regardless of whether the individual is to be detained or released,” wrote Karen Buffkin, the state’s general counsel, in a letter sent to DOJ in January. “The statute complies with Section 1373 because there is no provision of Connecticut’s statute that in any manner prohibits or restricts sending or receiving information from ICE regarding the immigration status of an individual.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on which jurisdictions have submitted documentation, and officials have said no determinations about compliance would be made until after the June 30 deadline.
Other jurisdictions warned they could lose out on federal grants if they don’t certify compliance include New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Clark County in Nevada, Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, Cook County in Illinois and Miami-Dade County in Florida.
In Clark County, Nevada, officials expect to submit their certification letter in the coming days.
“We believe we are in compliance and we intend to comply,” said county spokesman Erik Pappa.
In Miami-Dade County, officials took action earlier this year to ensure they were not risking federal grants and ordered the corrections department to begin honoring immigration detainer requests.
“Miami-Dade County is very eager to see the county removed from any kind investigation as to whether we cooperate with fed authorities. We do not want to jeopardize any federal grants,” said county spokesman Mike Hernandez.
But he said the county does take issue with holding inmates wanted on federal immigration detainers without getting reimbursed for the cost of housing them for an extra 48-hour period.
For now, jurisdictions found to hinder federal immigration efforts will risk losing out on three Justice Department grants: the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, the COPS program and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which pays local prisons and jails to hold illegal immigrants.
But the Justice Department has signaled its looking to expand both the scope of cooperation a jurisdiction must provide in order to be eligible for federal funding as well as the pool of grants that could be revoked.
A provision included in the Justice Department’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget would require law enforcement to comply with federal immigration detainers — requests that inmates be held in custody for up to 48 hours beyond their scheduled release from jail in order to give federal immigration authorities time retrieve them. The changes, which would have to be approved by Congress, would also ban local law enforcement agencies from adopting policies that ban inquires about nationality, citizenship, immigration status as well as certain other information.
Several jurisdictions hoping to be certified compliant with federal law this year were upset by the efforts to expand the list of conditions they would be required to comply with to receive federal grants.
“We would not support any change in policy that would require our police officers to ask the immigration status of anyone they arrest,” Mr. Hernandez said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said last month that he had been hopeful that guidance the DOJ had issued on sanctuary cities “would put to rest the divisive rhetoric and threats to cut funding to cities, such as New Orleans, that are fully compliant with federal law.”
Instead, he said the Trump administration’s budget “would vastly expand the federal government’s power to conscript state and local police officers into the enforcement of civil immigration laws.”
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