AG Sessions Threatens Grant Money to Sanctuary Cities, States

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a warning shot to sanctuary cities and states indicating they could risk Department of Justice grant money if they cannot prove they comply with federal immigration law.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a warning shot to sanctuary cities and states indicating they could risk Department of Justice grant money if they cannot prove they comply with federal immigration law.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today that cities and states must prove compliance with federal immigration law before becoming eligible for $4.1 billion in Department of Justice grants. The policy could put grant requests at risk in Washington and Oregon.

Sanctuary city policies “endanger lives of every American” and violate federal law, Sessions said, adding that “this disregard for law must end. Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk, especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators.”

The Sessions policy announcement made at the White House didn’t expressly indicate a time line, whether the risk extended beyond DOJ grants or if sanctions applied to a state would include all cities within the state.

Governors in Washington and Oregon recently issued executive orders to declare they are sanctuary states.

Both executive orders explicitly state the declarations are consistent with current federal law.  Sessions said in his statement states and cities "must prove compliance with immigration law before they can be eligible for $4.1 billion in Department of Justice grants.”

This could boil down to an interpretation of 8 USC Section 1373 of federal law that “prohibits local and state law enforcement from restricting the sharing of immigration status information with federal authorities.” The Immigrant Legal Resource Center says “Few, if any, so-called sanctuary policies actually conflict with this statute. Moreover federal law does not provide for any financial penalties for non-compliance.”

A contentious issue in Oregon involves detaining people at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Based on a US federal court ruling calling the practice illegal without probable cause, Oregon law enforcement agencies decline such ICE detention requests.

In February, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed an executive order blocking state law enforcement from detaining undocumented immigrants at the request of federal officials, days after the Trump administration began ramping up immigration enforcement actions.

Inslee’s order prevents state agencies from discriminating against or refusing service to those living in the country illegally and blocks the Washington State Patrol and the state Department of Corrections from detaining anyone solely on the basis of immigration status. It also blocks those agencies from spending state resources to create or enforce a registry of citizens on the basis of religious affiliation. 

However, Inslee said state law enforcement agencies will continue to honor federal arrest warrants. He noted his order only affected state agencies, so city and county law enforcement wouldn’t be impacted. And Inslee said the order should not be construed to mean the state would break federal law. The actual executive order reads: This Executive Order is intended to be consistent with 8 U.S.C. §1373. Should federal or state law change so as to give rise to a conflict with this Executive Order, such provision of this Executive Order shall be inoperative to the sole extent of the conflict.  

Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order in February that forbids all state agencies and employees from helping federal immigration officials locate or apprehend undocumented immigrants.

Though Oregon law already forbids state and local law enforcement agencies from using public resources to find or arrest those whose only crime is being in the country without proper documentation, Brown's order goes a step further in solidifying the state's sanctuary status by expanding the law to all agencies.

The governor's order also makes it illegal for state agencies to discriminate based on immigration status and forbids state agencies from using public resources to help create a religious registry. But each provision of Brown's order included a caveat: No state employee should break state or federal law to comply with her order.

Another sore point has been more aggressive activity recently by ICE agents to arrest undocumented people outside of courthouses where they appear for minor offenses or traffic tickets. Local officials say this practice has discouraged many Latinos from coming to courthouses, even as prospective jury members or to file legal paperwork.