Call it a chilling sign of the times.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported President Joe Biden’s Justice Department would end a Trump-era requirement that cities receiving grants from a $250 million program cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a move that cut sanctuary cities off from funds.
An internal memo seen by the wire service, written by acting head of Office of Justice Programs Maureen Henneberg, announced the change. In the memo, she added that cities that had submitted grant applications that complied with the terms of the agreement should pull them down and reapply, assumedly without those pesky parts about cooperating with ICE.
In the memo, Henneberg said she’d instructed her staff to “pull down and revise all solicitations that describe requirements or priority consideration elements or criteria pertaining to immigration.”
According to CNN, the limits were originally put in place back in 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If a jurisdiction wanted to participate in the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program, which doled out $253 million to cities and states in 2020, they would have to allow federal authorities to ask about inmates’ immigration status and give federal law enforcement 48 hours before they released any inmates of interest.
For sanctuary jurisdictions, this marked the beginning of a legal struggle over the funds. In February of 2020, in a suit brought by New York state, New York City and six other states, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled the Trump administration had a right to withhold the funds, according to Reuters.
An appeal to the Supreme Court was dropped after Joe Biden won the election for reasons you can probably guess. In March, Reuters reported, the Biden administration announced it was seeking dismissal of three other lawsuits related to the grant funding, so one can’t say the writing wasn’t on the wall.
The decision was hailed by the predictable folk.
“New York City is proud to be a welcoming and inclusive city for immigrants. We are thrilled by the news that the Department of Justice has recognized that anti-immigrant policies do not make our communities safer,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
“Donald Trump’s vindictive attempt to withhold grants from cities that stand up for our immigrant neighbors was inhumane and unacceptable, which is why we joined localities across the country to challenge these policies in court. I look forward to working with the Biden administration to empower all our communities — including immigrants — to thrive.”
First, let’s be clear about the “communities” de Blasio and other politicians are trying to protect.
These arguments rely on an important omission: Sanctuary cities aren’t protecting illegal immigrants, they’re protecting non-citizens in police custody that Immigration and Customs Enforcement are interested in.
Despite the way politicians who favor sanctuary jurisdictions frame the matter — that they’re protecting beleaguered illegal immigrants from a capricious, authoritarian federal immigration Gestapo that’s going to swoop down upon their streets and detain people at random — what ICE is interested in is acting to remove people who present a criminal danger from the country.
Then there’s the argument made by advocates of sanctuary cities, as Reuters noted, “that close cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities can deter immigrants from coming forward to report crimes.”
This argument, oft-made, doesn’t usually come with evidence to support it. Meanwhile, the refusal of local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities has predictable results when it comes to people who commit crimes.
Take the example of Juan Ramon Vasquez. In 2019, the Honduran illegal immigrant was sentenced to serve between eight and 20 years for repeatedly raping his girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter and another 21 months for immigration violations, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. As the Justice Department noted at the time of his sentence, ICE ordered a detainer placed on him when he was arrested in 2014; he’d previously been deported in 2009.
Philadelphia police refused and let him go — thus, free to molest a child. Ramon Vasquez has promised to leave the country after his sentence, although that’s likely cold comfort for his victim.
In December of 2019, also in Philadelphia, ICE arrested Hector Moran-Espinoza, a Guatemalan illegal immigrant who had been released twice by police there even though he was charged with violent sexual crimes against children.
In Chicago, a Mexican illegal immigrant named Christopher Puente was arrested in February of 2020 and charged with sexually assaulting a girl in a McDonald’s bathroom. In June of 2019, ICE issued a detainer on Puente when he was arrested on theft charges. Despite Puente’s extensive felony history that included forced entry burglary and an arrest at the Mexico-U.S. border, Chicago ignored the ICE request.
Is this the “community” that these cities are protecting? If so, that’s not keeping anyone safe, including illegal aliens that obey most everything but immigration law. Thus, withholding grant money until they do the sensible thing and cooperate with ICE is sound carrot-and-stick policy.
What’s especially troubling is that this takes place amid the backdrop of the border crisis. Rest assured there’ll be no federal penalties for being a sanctuary city under the Biden administration — and, to the extent they can be, they’ll be an impediment to any state that wishes to legally forbid sanctuary jurisdictions. Meanwhile, the southern border is seeing record numbers of migrants — including, I would assume, some either intent on criminal activity or who already have a record.
What this says to bad actors is simple: ICE isn’t going to actively pursue you, and cities and states won’t have any incentive to work with the federal government on doing so, either. And this is supposed to make communities safer. Nice work.
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