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The Obama Administration is NOT Cracking Down on Sanctuary Policies

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

For the past seven years, the Obama administration has systematically dismantled the immigration enforcement capability of this country, substituted its own policies for constitutionally enacted laws, granted de facto amnesty and work authorization to people who are here illegally, abused every discretionary authority to allow inadmissible aliens to enter and remain in the U.S., and ignored every state and local policy aimed at thwarting the removal of foreign criminals.


And yet, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a letter last week addressed to the chairman of the House Committee that controls the department’s budget, just about everyone was taken in by the claim that the administration was going to crack down on jurisdictions that willfully impede federal immigration enforcement and shield illegal aliens. Even political leaders and journalists who are normally skeptical of the Obama administration took the letter written by Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik at face value.

Unfortunately, the old adage, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” applies in this case. Another saying, this one by legendary basketball coach John Wooden, “Be quick, but don’t hurry,” was also ignored by those who hurried to report and respond to it.

The letter was released to the public and the media just minutes before Attorney General Loretta Lynch began her testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies on Feb. 24. In the carefully worded letter, Kadzik leaves the department virtually unlimited wiggle room to avoid taking any action against sanctuary jurisdictions.

For instance, Kadzik assures Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-Texas), whose Feb. 1 letter prompted DOJ’s response, that “the Department can potentially seek criminal or civil enforcement options against” jurisdictions that obstruct immigration enforcement. “Can” is a far cry from “shall,” and “potentially” means just that: it’s possible, but far from assured.


Kadzik’s letter also carefully reasserts the Obama administration’s position that its own self-declared policy priorities will continue to take precedence over enforcing immigration laws as enacted by Congress. “[W]e are actively considering ways in which we may most effectively carry out our public

safety mission as it regards enforcing the nation’s criminal and immigration laws,” stated Kadzik. It is precisely under the rubric of pursuing public safety that the administration has adopted a set of immigration enforcement “priorities,” which exempt about 87 percent of all immigration lawbreakers, including many criminal aliens, from removal. It is absurd to believe that DOJ is going to crack down on local sanctuary policies that mirror administration’s own de facto national sanctuary policy.

Rather than assert any kind of definitive federal action against sanctuary jurisdictions (like the sort of lawsuits DOJ brought against Arizona and other jurisdictions that attempted to facilitate the enforcement of immigration laws the Obama administration did not want to enforce), the department merely reaffirms that it has the authority to take action. It’s the same authority that DOJ has had for the past seven years and has not exercised on a single occasion and there is very little reason to expect that they will exercise it in the final 11 months of this president’s term.


In fact, the only thing the DOJ letter will accomplish is to make the administration’s continued refusal to take action against sanctuary jurisdictions even more indefensible. Until this point, the administration has dismissed the connection between sanctuary policies and threats to public safety, like last summer’s killing in San Francisco of Kate Steinle by an illegal alien with a long criminal record, as mere anomalies. The letter acknowledges that sanctuary policies, particularly those that shield criminal aliens, not only compromise public safety but are expressly prohibited under illegal under federal law.

Chairman Culberson stated in his letter to Kadzik’s boss, Attorney General Lynch, Congress “has the duty to ensure that…State and local law enforcement agencies are following Federal law before they become eligible for Federal grants.” His office says that he remains committed to carrying out that duty, but he needs the support of congressional leaders.

Though Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, the leadership has been reluctant to use the power of the purse to rein in administration policies that usurp Congress’s constitutional authority over immigration policy or get them to crack down on sanctuary jurisdictions that flout the law. In an election year in which overwhelming public concerns about the dangers posed by our unenforced immigration laws are dominating the political discussion, the congressional leadership may finally be forced to take action if DOJ’s vague assurances do not translate into concrete action against illegal sanctuary policies.


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