Sessions issues narrow definition of 'sanctuary city'

Sessions issues narrow definition of 'sanctuary city'
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE released a memo Monday defining "sanctuary jurisdictions," a term for local governments that refuse to fully comply with federal immigration laws.

In the memo, Sessions said jurisdictions that match his definition will be ineligible to receive grants from the Departments of Justice or Homeland Security.

The legal definition had been a matter of debate, since local governments and law enforcement agencies cooperate with federal immigration authorities on many different levels.

Many large cities refuse full federal cooperation on immigration but have refused to define themselves as "sanctuary jurisdictions."

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has, for instance, eschewed the sanctuary city label, while Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said last week that the city's restrictions on federal immigration cooperation do not violate federal law.

Under the new definition, "sanctuary jurisdictions" will be those that "willfully refuse to comply" with a federal law that requires federal, state and local government agents to share individuals' immigration status with immigration authorities.

Sanctuary cities are commonly understood to be local jurisdictions that either don't share immigration information of private citizens with law enforcement, or those that refuse to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers.

Detainers are requests by ICE to hold foreign detainees and prisoners in local jails after their constitutionally mandated detention is over so they may be picked up by federal agents and put in immigration proceedings.

Cities have complained that honoring detainers would make them liable for violations of prisoners' constitutional rights.

By limiting the definition of "sanctuary jurisdictions" to those that willfully refuse to share information on individuals' migratory status, compliance with detainers was effectively removed as a factor in awarding grants.

The memo clarifies an executive order signed by President Trump in January.

According to Sessions, the executive order limited the measures the Department of Justice could undertake to ensure local compliance with federal immigration law.

"Section 9(a) [of the executive order] expressly requires enforcement 'to the extent consistent with law,' and therefore does not call for the imposition of grant conditions that would violate any applicable constitutional or statutory limitation," read the memo.

The penalties for sanctuary jurisdictions will also be narrower than previously proposed.

By limiting grants tied to sanctuary status to those awarded by the Justice and Homeland Security departments, Sessions took off the table the threat to restrict other sources of federal funding to sanctuary cities.

The grants awarded by the two departments were already subject to the discretion of the attorney general or the secretary of Homeland Security, according to the memo.

Last month, a federal judge in California blocked the part of Trump's executive order that tied federal funding to sanctuary status.

Sessions responded to that ruling by saying the executive order's funding provisions were "squarely within the powers of the President."

The narrow definition and limited punitive measures contrasts with the administration's previous rhetoric of strong action against uncooperative cities. But Sessions said the administration has other tools to compel state and local governments to comply with federal immigration law.

"While the Executive Order's definition of ‘sanctuary jurisdiction’ is narrow, nothing in the Executive Order limits the Department's ability to point out ways that state and local jurisdictions are undermining our lawful system of immigration or to take enforcement action where state or local practices violate federal laws, regulations, or grant conditions," the memo read.