DOJ to crack down on sanctuary cities by denying and clawing back federal grants

It’s just the beginning of the White House’s post-health-care-failure week of “action, action, action.”

CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

At Monday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer turned the podium over to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced a plan to cut Office of Justice Programs grants to sanctuary cities — those that choose not to turn over undocumented immigrants to federal officials for deportation.

“Today I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws, including 8 U.S. Code § 1373,” Sessions explained. That law states that no government entity can restrict sharing information with the Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding individuals’ citizenship or immigration status. “Moreover, the Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with 1373 as a condition of receiving those awards.”

Not complying with 1373, Sessions warned, could “result in withholding grants, termination of grants, and disbarment or ineligibility for future grants.” He added that the Department of Justice will “also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction that willfully violates 1373.” This would impact what he described as an expected $4.1 billion in federal grants.

Underpinning Sessions’ new enforcement regime was the violent crimes that some undocumented immigrants have committed. As he exited the briefing room after just three questions, reporter April Ryan asked him if the killing of Eric Garner was a hate crime, but he ignored the question. Just last month, Sessions said that the federal government would back away from monitoring troubled police departments, suggesting hypocrisy about whether deterring violence actually motivates the administration’s actions. ThinkProgress recently published exclusive documents showing that the officer who killed Garner in a prohibited chokehold had a history of abuses that had gone undisciplined.

Despite Sessions’ claims that eliminating sanctuary cities will improve public safety, the reverse is actually true. Research shows that there are 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties. Likewise, median household incomes are higher and poverty and unemployment rates are lower. But if the Department of Justice cuts grants that actually fund public safety programs, it’ll have the opposite effect, making it harder to for those cities to maintain their safety and security.

Trump has previously indicated a desire to go after sanctuary cities, having signed an executive order his first week in office promising to punish them by denying them eligibility for “federal grants.” That vaguely suggested the possibility of cutting all federal funding, not just grants related to public safety. By targeting sanctuary cities, Trump is notably attacking areas that overwhelmingly voted against him in the 2016 election. His threats, however, have not had the desired effect, prompting even more jurisdictions to adopt sanctuary city policies.

Sessions’ announcement was one of the first public statements from the White House after the defeat of the health care plan championed by congressional Republicans last week. On Monday, the White House press office’s daily press email, “Your 1600 Daily,” did not mention health care at all. Chief strategist Steve Bannon told Politico to expect that there would be “action, action, action” this week to try to quickly move on from (and distract from) the health care failure. Stephen Miller, President Trump’s senior adviser, was notably present for Sessions’ portion of the press briefing.