(HRW) – The US Department of Justice (DOJ) sent threatening letters to 23 so called “sanctuary” jurisdictions last week, including Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions throws his weight behind the Trump administration’s deportation agenda.
The letters promise federal subpoenas and threaten local police funding for cities where local law enforcement fails to share information with federal immigration officers. The funding at stake, Byrne JAG grants, are the leading source of federal funding for state and local governments and is a major funding source for state and local law enforcement, prosecution, and courts.
Squeezing sanctuary cities to carry out this administration’s unsound deportation plan undermines rights and threatens public safety. When local law enforcement does share information with immigration authorities, immigrant communities stop reporting crimes – making everyone less safe.
Last year, the Trump administration made 40 percent more immigration arrests in communities around the country, uprooting people with deep ties to the United States and putting their families and communities in turmoil. Most of these arrests by immigration authorities occurred after some type of run-in with law enforcement – even something so small as a traffic stop or marijuana possession. In an effort to ensure that everybody has access to police protection, sanctuary cities have adopted policies to ensure that minimal contact with the criminal justice system does not result in deportation.
Courts in Chicago, California, and Philadelphia have issued rulings blocking some of these moves, and the administration has vowed to fight the matter in court. With these letters, however, Sessions and the Trump administration is escalating their bullying of localities that are – rightly – making public safety their first priority. Indeed, a recent study found that crime rates are actually lower in sanctuary jurisdictions than in those cities that partner, formally or informally, with the federal government on immigration enforcement. Forcing these cities to entangle policing with federal immigration enforcement means eroding trust in local police and, ultimately, sending people to detention centers rife with abuses. The good news is that local communities have the power to – and should – push back and make their leaders prioritize public safety and families.