This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions began to put some bite into the Trump administration's bark about so-called sanctuary cities.
On Monday, the attorney general announced that to be eligible for Department of Justice grants, local jurisdictions will have to certify they comply with federal immigration law. Officials in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – all sanctuary cities – have vowed to fight back, and legal challenges already have begun.
These grants, used to fund training, equipment and other expenses, amount to more than $4 billion per year. But until now, local jurisdictions have been free to ignore immigration laws and detainer orders from federal immigration officials and to return violent illegal immigrants to the streets.
Sessions in on solid ground here. He is carrying out President Trump’s executive order of Jan. 25 on “enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States.”
And he has the law on his side. The relevant statute reads:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
It is entirely appropriate for the federal government to make clear there will be no more extending one hand for federal grant dollars and using the other to give federal law enforcement the middle finger.
It also is entirely appropriate – not to mention prudent – for the Trump administration to change Washington’s approach to sanctuary cities. The Obama administration encouraged this, and more than 300 jurisdictions across the country are now sanctuary cities or counties. Each year, they release thousands of people back onto the streets who would be subject to deportation if turned over to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers.
These are people who broke the law by entering the country without proper documentation, who have then been arrested for additional crimes – in many cases violent crimes and who, if released, are likely to commit still more crimes.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the man who killed Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco in 2015, is a classic example. He was in the country illegally. He had been convicted of seven felonies and deported five times previously, and he was on probation at the time. But because of the city’s sanctuary cities policies, he was released again, only to fire off a shot with a stolen gun in San Francisco’s Embarcadero District that struck Steinle in the back and killed her two hours later.
President Trump made an issue of the Steinle killing during the campaign and even mentioned it in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. He promised to clean up the problem. Sessions’ remarks on Monday served as notice the president intends to keep his promise.
The sheriff who released him, Ross Mirkarimi, cannot say the same. Mirkarimi, a founder of the California Green Party who ran for sheriff because he was term-limited out of his seat on the San Francisco City Council, had campaigned on reducing recidivism.
Lopez-Sanchez's re-offending wasn't a matter of if but of when. , rather one of when. Yet, because of a misguided policy that is more concerned with protecting criminal illegal aliens than innocent citizens, Kate Steinle lost her life and the taxpayer again picks up the tab for her killer's prosecution (and his defense) and permanent incarceration. The cycle is perverse.
The policies certainly did not make San Francisco safer for Kate Steinle, nor for thousands of other unnecessary victims across America. They didn’t work out for Mirkarimi either – he was bounced in the next election, 62-38, owing to this and other missteps.
Sanctuary cities want an a la carte option – the freedom to choose which laws they will enforce while continuing to avail themselves of federal grant programs for law enforcement. Indeed, Kevin de Leon, California’s senate president pro tem, blasted Sessions’ comments as “unconstitutional threats and blackmail to prey on anxieties” and defended sanctuary cities as “less dangerous than non-sanctuary cities.”
But sanctuary cities are not safer, agencies control their grant programs, and the president and his cabinet control the agencies. And in this case, the head of the Department of Justice, at the behest of the president, has stepped forward to put some real teeth in immigration enforcement.
That’s not blackmail, and it’s certainly not unconstitutional. It is a step in the right direction and further indication that this president plans to keep his promises about addressing illegal immigration.