Sessions's Climbdown on Sanctuary Cities

May 23, 2017

The Atlantic 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions pulled back on President Trump’s January executive order cracking down on “sanctuary cities” on Monday, releasing a memo that represents a significant retreat from the order’s original goal of punishing jurisdictions that limit collaboration between local authorities and federal immigration agents.

The memo narrowly defines sanctuary cities to “refer only to jurisdictions that ‘willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373.’” Section 1373, which was signed into law in 1996, prohibits jurisdictions from preventing any government entity or local official from exchanging information on an individual’s immigration status with federal immigration agents. There’s no clear definition for sanctuary cities. Sessions’s latest memo, which comes after a federal court in California blocked the president’s threat against sanctuary cities, concedes that using Section 1373 as the administration’s definition is perhaps the most legally sound approach.

The problem for the administration’s immigration crackdown is that definition of “sanctuary city” exempts all but a few jurisdictions, as most found ways around that criteria years ago.

For now, the memo notes that the requirement that jurisdictions comply with Section 1373 only applies to Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security grants, though it adds that the Department of Justice “may seek to tailor grants to promote a lawful system of immigration.” The burden is on localities to prove that they are in compliance with Section 1373. Chishti noted that it’s unlikely that many will be: “No jurisdiction in the country has been penalized or formerly found in violation of Section 1373 ever since it was enacted in 1996,” he said.

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