Terry H. Schwadron

I seem to have a reaction to hearing from Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. Each time he has chosen to speak publicly, it has been a message that makes me cringe. Unlike the White House itself, Sessions knows exactly what it wants to achieve — and so do I.

Once again, Sessions has promised to withhold federal Justice Department money from cities, counties and states that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Actually, the attorney general said that he would “reaffirm” a more limited Obama-era rule that had threatened to stop federal crime-fighting money if officials were “barred” from communicating with federal agencies about immigration.

His view of “cooperation” is to do the work of ICE, the immigration and customs enforcement folks. Sessions, wants the broadest possible application in pursuit of his political beliefs, even suggesting that the Justice Department might go after previously granted money to so-called sanctuary cities. Sessions is one of those behind the targeting of illegal immigration in almost all its forms, although he prefers to pick up individuals rather than, say, going after employers.

Needless to say, mayors, governors and county officials who consider themselves part of “sanctuary cities” said no, they won’t change their policies. They question whether the Justice Department’s arm-waving is actually practical or even legal. Basically, the local officials think it’s hard enough to do policing without having to worry about doing the job of ICE.

There is no definition, for example, of exactly what a sanctuary city actually is or does (or doesn’t do). The amount of money in the appropriate crime-fighting grants is far less than cities get overall from the federal government, and is supposed to go towards readiness against terrorism, which, after all, is the point of this whole exercise. Law enforcement bodies in nearly all of these sanctuary cities say they already report serious crime and criminals to immigration authorities, and that detaining undocumented adults and children for minor situations, like traffic offenses, runs counter to their mission.

So, once again, Team Trump is announcing an ideology-oriented policy with no details, little actual communication and will only be able to enforce any of it if the appropriate cases end up being approved by a variety of lawsuits and court actions promised on all sides. At the minimum, we could well be beyond a Trump (first?) term before there is any enforceable policy on this question.

Still, just the threat is enough to wreak havoc among families. A young, intelligent woman I know who happens to be Mexican will not attend her English as a Second Language class now because she fears being picked up by immigration officials on her way to the free class. That is simply wrong. This campaign against immigrants reflects an issue that most of us can feel personally and directly. We are all immigrants.

“When cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe,” Sessions said at the White House. “I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws and to rethink these policies.”

Yesterday, Sessions was on the Arizona border, once again repeating the need to protect borders and to add judges who will quickly deport lawbreakers.

The California Legislature is considering a state law to protect those stopped and detained who have committed no crime. It has passed the Senate and faces a vote in the Assembly.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio has joined with mayors in Chicago, Los Angeles and a scores of other cities in saying: “We think (the Justice Department directives are) very susceptible to legal challenge.” And so, once again, Donald Trump’s executive order and Justice Department follow-up are sure to go to the courts.

DeBlasio added, “If they make an attempt to pull that money, it will be from NYPD, from security funding to fight terrorism. If an attempt is made to do that, we will go to court immediately for an injunction to stop it,” de Blasio added. “We believe the executive order is vague and in some ways contradictory.”

“Sanctuary cities” is a term used for jurisdictions with policies that limit cooperation between or involvement with federal immigration enforcement actions. The concept of sanctuary cities apparently originated in churches in the 1980s that were providing sanctuary to Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries despite the federal government being reluctant to grant them refugee status. Sanctuary cities became more popular in cities with more diverse communities to counter what leaders considered extreme federal immigration policies, especially against those who were arrested for minor, non-violent crimes.

New York — and the other jurisdictions — make clear that if they arrest someone for murder who is undocumented, they let Homeland Security know, and, often the person is detained for deportation proceedings. But the cities will not stop policing to target the undocumented. DeBlasio said, “It’s going to make cities less safe,” because undocumented criminals will simply hide deeper in the community.

The real point, however is that local police have has spent decades trying to build relationships with immigrant communities and if undocumented people fear deportation they will not come forward to report suspected criminal activity, including terrorism.

“This is the kind of thing that will destroy that progress and make it impossible for the police to keep cities safe,” DeBlasio said.

Sessions makes it sound as if cities are actively protecting undocumented immigrants rather than being more passive about seeking out harsh enforcement. “Unfortunately, some states and cities have adopted policies designed to frustrate the enforcement of immigration laws,” he said. “Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk.”

Three California cities — San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Richmond — already have filed lawsuits challenging the legality of Trump’s executive order.

“Sanctuary cities are saying, ‘We want every member of the community to trust us, and that can be only if we’re not viewed as partners of ICE,’” Bill Ong Hing, a law professor and expert in immigration law at the University of San Francisco told Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik. Since police powers are understood under federal case law to be specifically reserved to the states, that represents a high bar for the federal government to overcome.

A little humanity and empathy would go a long way in this debate.

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terryschwadron.wordpress.com

Journalist, musician, community volunteer