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Lawmakers Respond To AG Session’s Threats Against “Sanctuary Cities”: See You In Court

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U.S. attorney general and Deliverance extra Jeff Sessions engaged in some budgetary saber rattling yesterday, threatening to make good on a Trump Administration executive order that promised to withhold federal funding from cities that resist its hardline immigration stances.

In comments in the White House briefing room, Sessions pledged that grant programs for local police would be on the chopping block in “sanctuary” jurisdictions like New York that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities in some instances.

“When cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe,” Sessions said. “I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws … public safety as well as national security are at stake, and put them at risk of losing federal dollars.”

New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman didn’t seem too worried about Session’s threats. “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,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “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.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio was among local officials across the country — in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere — who dared Sessions to try and drain their federal funding.

“The Trump Administration is pushing an unrealistic and mean spirited executive order,” the mayor tweeted last night. “If they want a fight, we’ll see them in court.”

New York City’s sanctuary policies mean that it often refuses to cooperate with federal authorities in immigration enforcement. With exceptions for certain violent crimes and some drug distribution charges, city jails frequently don’t honor “detainer” requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and police officers are not supposed to inquire about immigration status.

However, the NYPD’s “broken windows” policing model routinely exposes New Yorkers to independent ICE activity, it just doesn’t pitch in to help the feds directly.

Sessions referred repeatedly to a Justice Department Office of the Inspector General [OIG] report, released last summer under the Obama administration, that argued that some sanctuary city policies violate federal law. The former administration never moved to actually curtail, let alone “claw back” funding, as Session’s threatened on Monday, but he suggested that theObama-era OIG report would be the basis of doing so in the future.

As a trio of immigration scholars explained in the Washington Post in December, the vast majority of sanctuary policies don’t violate federal law.

“Sanctuary policies are an exercise of basic state and local powers to regulate for the health, safety and welfare of their residents,” they wrote, and the Supreme Court has already held that the Tenth Amendment “prevent[s] the federal government from ‘commandeering’ state and local governments by requiring them to enforce federal mandates.” Schneiderman made similar arguments in a report published in January, when threats about sanctuary cities first surfaced in earnest. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center echoed those positions in a paper published last year.

The funds mentioned by Sessions are law enforcement specific, and programs like Community Oriented Policing Services are among the $185 million the NYPD got from the feds last year. The dollar amounts are large but ultimately only a small part, about 3.4 percent, of the department’s overall budget. As we’ve reported before, the grants at issue haven’t always been managed perfectly by the NYPD, and are perennially the focus of overheated rhetoric about terrorism. But in further comments today, de Blasio pledged to fight aggressively to prevent any cuts Washington might attempt.

“President Trump’s latest threat changes nothing,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We will remain a city welcoming of immigrants who have helped make our city the safest big city in the nation. Any attempt to cut NYPD funding for the nation’s top terror target will be aggressively fought in court.”

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