‘A matter of life and death’: White House lauds DOJ crackdown on sanctuary cities

By Will Racke

The Trump administration has no plans to ease Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ crackdown on sanctuary jurisdictions, despite a fresh round of legal challenges from cities and states, White House officials said Wednesday.

Ahead of Sessions’ speech to law enforcement in Miami, three White House officials told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the attorney general has a green light to apply pressure to cities that defy the administration’s immigration enforcement directives.

Sessions is holding up Miami-Dade county, which was previously a sanctuary jurisdiction, as a model for local cooperation with federal immigration authorities. He is calling out cities such as Chicago and San Francisco that go out of their way to shield criminal aliens from detention and deportation, officials said.

“What we want is to make sure that this issue stays at the forefront, because it is a matter a life and death. There really are lives on the line when we’re taking about enforcing the law with regard to immigration in this country,” one official said, adding that “the more that people talk about this, the more cities around the country are going to get in compliance with the policy.”

Sessions has made taking on sanctuary cities the most visible part of the administration’s hawkish immigration agenda. He announced last month that states and cities would have to comply with immigration detention standards in order to be eligible for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which doles out federal money to local police departments to buy vehicles and equipment.

Under the new eligibility rules, cities and states must give ICE agents unfettered access to local jails and provide 48-hours notice to immigration authorities of the impending release of criminal aliens.

Chicago, San Francisco and California — frequent targets of Sessions’ broadsides against sanctuary jurisdictions — have responded to revised guidelines by filing federal lawsuits against the Department of Justice. They accuse the administration of exceeding its authority to place conditions on congressionally approved grants.

The threat of losing access to federal funds is one reason why Miami-Dade county reversed its longstanding sanctuary city policy on February. Jail officials there had previously filled immigration detention requests only when criminal aliens were in custody for violent crimes, but they now honor all ICE detainers regardless of the underlying offense.

DOJ rewarded the county’s decision on Aug. 4, sending Mayor Carlos Gimenz a letter confirming “there was no evidence” of non-compliance with immigration-related requirements for a $480,000 grant due to the county this year.

Miami-Dade’s reversal drew protest in the heavily Hispanic and immigrant county, but Sessions said Wednesday the decision has helped the county buck a recent trend of rising violent crime in major cities. He contrasted that development with the situation in Chicago, where murders have soared to their highest levels in 20 years.

As he has done in previous speeches, Sessions placed the blame for Chicago’s crime problems on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has become one of the administration’s most recalcitrant antagonists on immigration enforcement issues. Emanuel and other Chicago officials say the city’s sanctuary policies are necessary to build trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement.

Pointing to Chicago’s dismal homicide clearance rate, Sessions argued that the policies actually make witnesses less likely to cooperate with police because they fear criminals will be quickly released back into the community.

“The leaders in Chicago have made this a political issue,” he said, referring to Emanuel’s refusal to allow police to honor immigration detention requests.

“This is lawlessness. It makes no sense as a matter of policy. It’s not moral or legal,” Sessions added.

White House officials say Sessions will continue to draw a connection between sanctuary policies and violent crime, especially crimes perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations whose ranks are filled with illegal immigrants.

“Sanctuary cities really are the best friend of the cartels, the gangs, the drug dealers,” an official told The DCNF. “The more sanctuary cities we can eliminate, the safer people are going to be from all of the public safety issues that come along with all those criminal elements that view sanctuary cities as safe havens for themselves.”

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