Sessions Puts Squeeze on Sanctuary Cities With New Funding Criteria

July 26, 2017 Updated: December 22, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a small step in the Trump administration’s plan to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that shield illegal aliens from federal immigration agents.

Sessions said fiscal year 2017 recipients of a federal grant program, known as the Byrne JAG, must meet three conditions.

States and cities must remove any restrictions on communication between state and local agencies and officials at the Department of Homeland Security; give DHS access to detention facilities to interview inmates about their immigration status; and give DHS at least 48 hours’ notice when a wanted alien is scheduled to be released from a detention facility.

In fiscal 2016, under the Obama administration, the number of wanted illegal aliens handed over to federal authorities from detention facilities plummeted to less than 3 percent of what it was six years prior.

“So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said on July 25 in a press release.

“These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law. This can have tragic consequences, like the 10 deaths we saw in San Antonio this weekend.”

Ten people, all illegal aliens, died in a parking lot in San Antonio last weekend after being smuggled in the back of a truck with no air conditioning or ventilation.  

Byrne JAG Program

The Byrne JAG funding allocations are calculated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and are based on the state’s population and violent crime statistics.

Once the state funding is calculated, 60 percent of the allocation is awarded to the state and 40 percent to eligible units of local government. State and local authorities often rely on the funding for law enforcement purposes.

In fiscal 2016, Byrne JAG handed out $347 million in grants to around 1,000 cities. Many cities reported that the grant would go toward training or new equipment like body cameras and tasers.

New York City topped the list, receiving $4.3 million. Houston and Chicago were second and third, respectively, with $2.3 million apiece. Los Angeles was fourth with $1.8 million.

All four cities are known sanctuaries for illegal aliens and have policies that would impede them from receiving the DOJ funding.

In New York, in fiscal 2016, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) submitted 80 inmate detainers to the NYPD, according to the mayor’s office. Only two of the criminals were transferred to ICE.

Despite threats of funding cuts, cities such as Denver are furthering their sanctuary policies.

Just last week, the Denver City Council voted to essentially prohibit city officials from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration authorities, according to a Denver Post report.

The city, which received more than $400,000 in Byrne JAG funding in fiscal 2016, is unlikely to qualify for any this round.

Sessions’s announcement comes after a Californian judge upheld an injunction on Trump’s original executive order, which sought to halt all federal funding to cities that limit cooperation with immigration officials.

Trump’s hard line on immigration appealed to many voters during his campaign.

“We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths,” he said in Phoenix, Arizona, on Aug. 31, 2016. “Cities that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars, and we will work with Congress to pass legislation to protect those jurisdictions that do assist federal authorities.”

Congress is also moving forward on legislation regarding sanctuary cities. In a June 29 vote, the House voted to cut federal funding to jurisdictions that fail to hand over illegal immigrants to immigration authorities when a detainer is lodged.

The bill, called the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, will now go to the Senate.

“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states, and these long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer,” Sessions said.

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