That situation appears to be about to change from posturing to action, rapidly.
On Tuesday night, the Department of Justice announced its first real attempt to prohibit “sanctuary cities” — cities that, in the federal government’s view, don’t do enough to help federal agents enforce immigration law — from getting federal funds.
Under the DOJ’s new criteria for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, the biggest federal grant for local law enforcement, states and cities will only be able to apply if they agree to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers into local jails — and if they notify ICE agents at least 48 hours before anyone ICE has expressed interest in gets released.
The Trump administration’s been saber-rattling against “sanctuary cities” during its whole six months in office (not to mention on the campaign trail). But until now, the actual steps it’s taken to change federal policy to crack down on “sanctuaries” have been relatively toothless. Tuesday’s announcement puts an end to all that. It signals that the fight to defund sanctuary cities has begun in earnest.
In other words, this just got deadly serious, and the Trump DoJ is now actively moving to cut off a quarter of a billion from police departments across the country in places like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and more.
The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program hands out funds to states and cities that get used for everything from training to military-style equipment. It’s the biggest grant the Department of Justice administers to local law enforcement; in fiscal year 2016, it handed out more than $263 million in funds.
The Trump administration isn’t trying to strip funding that’s already been promised. But starting in the fall, according to the DOJ’s Tuesday announcement, applicants for new Byrne grants are going to have to certify three things:
The first criterion is in line with the steps the Trump administration has already taken against “sanctuary cities,” which have focused on the idea that cities are violating the federal law against local bans on information-sharing.
- that they comply with a federal law banning any state or local policy that prohibits municipal employees from sharing information with the feds about someone’s immigration status;
- that they allow ICE agents into local jails; and
- that, whenever ICE sends local jail officials a “detainer request” — a request to hold someone after they’d otherwise be released so ICE can pick them up (sent when ICE agents have reason to believe someone in a local jail is deportable) — jail officials give ICE at least 48 hours’ advance notice before letting that person go.
But it’s a pretty toothless critique. Even the most outspoken sanctuary cities in America claim that they don’t prohibit anyone from sharing immigration information with the federal government.
But the second two criteria added to the Byrne JAG program, though, take turn the rhetoric against sanctuary cities into actual policy.
Many cities and states limit the circumstances under which jails can hold people just because ICE asks them to. And while the DOJ isn’t officially requiring grantees to agree to all ICE requests, it’s requiring them to do things that would lead to pretty much the same outcome.
The bottom line is that current local laws make those last two items impossible to meet in several cities right now, or that the 48-hour notice is impossible to meet in such a large city like Los Angeles when there's potentially thousands of prisoners at any given time.
What ICE wants to do is turn city and county jails into de facto deportation pipelines. Local governments would have to hold anyone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant for at least 48 hours, informing ICE beforehand and they must be able to hold and produce anyone ICE tells local law enforcement that they suspect of being deportable.
In other words, county and city jails would become deportation holding facilities, and local cops and county sheriff's deputies would become de facto immigration agents.
And they'll do it, or lose millions in federal grants.
This is now stated DoJ policy.
Will cities comply?