Lies and Fear Mongering: The Attorney General Strikes A Familiar Tone
On Monday afternoon, Attorney General Jeff Sessions joined White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s press briefing to reiterate statements that the Trump administration would seek to block some grant funding from sanctuary cities if they do not comply with certain aspects of federal law.
During this briefing, Sessions did not offer any new policies or clarify the exact steps by which the Justice Department would begin walking back federal grant money — i.e. what specific grants would no longer be allowed, if and how this policy would retroactively apply to grants already issued, or how enforcement of these already existing laws and policies would increase.
Instead, the Attorney General spent the majority of his statement discussing two crimes committed by two unauthorized, criminal immigrants. He reiterated statements made by the Trump campaign that paint immigrants as dangerous and cause for grave national concern.
“DUIs, assaults, burglaries, drug crimes, gang rapes, crimes against children, and murderers — countless Americans would be alive today and countless loved ones would not be grieving today if these policies of sanctuary cities were ended.”
Despite the passionate language used by Sessions, he failed to offer any evidence regarding how he came to the conclusion that “countless” Americans would be alive today, if it were not for sanctuary cities. It should be noted that he was not asked to clarify what he meant by “countless,” nor was he asked how he arrived at that figure by any journalist called upon by the Press Secretary.
Even though he did not mention them, there are a great deal of statistics available in regards to the safety of sanctuary cities — specifically, the effects that the policies of these so-called cities have on both crime and economy.
In a study released by the Center for American Progress in January, it was reported that there are approximately 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to their non sanctuary counterparts. The poverty rate is often 2.3 percent lower, unemployment is down over 1 percent, and median household annual income is $4,353 higher.
This data was compiled by analyzing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement dataset obtained by a FOIA request. These numbers are based specifically on information the government has provided — nothing fake about them.
They speak to the safety increases that occur when local law enforcement is able to work with a community, instead of splitting their time between community protection and immigration enforcement.
The Major Cities Chiefs Association — which represents 68 of the largest local law enforcements in the country — reaffirmed this, stating that forcing local agencies to become intermingled with federal immigration efforts “would result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic acts.”
It is difficult to understand why the highest ranking law enforcement official in the country would refuse to listen to the many men and women that he oversees — especially when they explain, in no uncertain terms, the safety hazards they would experience if they were forced to act as de facto immigration officers.
Safety, by what definition?
During his appearance at the briefing Sessions repeatedly stressed the importance of American citizens’ safety. While the majority of this country undoubtedly agrees with this statement, the manner by which Sessions means to improve safety calls his logic into question. By refusing federal grants to sanctuary cities, many programs vital to community safety could face the chopping block.
These programs would include the Violent Gang and Crime Reduction Program and the DOJ’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI). The Violent Gang and Crime Reduction Program — also known as “Project Safe Neighborhoods” — is an initiative designed to provide “support to state, local, and tribal efforts to reduce gun crime and gang-related violence.” SAKI, on the other hand, allows for funding to pursue previously unsolved crimes of sexual assault by increasing the number of submitted sexual assault kits.
These two grant examples cover quite a few sections of the “DUIs, assaults, burglaries, drug crimes, gang rapes, crimes against children, and murder[s]” that the Attorney General railed so intensely against during his time at the podium. Once again, despite his passion, Sessions failed to explain how cutting critical community safety programs would be in the best interest of American citizens.
There are 100+ other grants supported by federal funds that are integral to the safety of communities that Sessions is threatening to take away. His answer to a supposed threat is to take protections away from communities — which brings us to increasingly murky legal grounds.
Bring in the Lawyers
When discussing the disobedience of sanctuary cities, Sessions referred to two aspects of federal immigration law. The first — Section 1373 — was enacted in 1996 under Bill Clinton. It is a section of the federal code that “prohibits anyone from interfering with the exchange of information with federal authorities about the immigration status of any person.” This law does not, in any way, require local authorities to collect information regarding the immigration status of persons in custody. In fact, it serves mainly as protection for local authorities who wish to take immigration information to the federal authorities on their own accord.
Rather than creating a precedence for requiring an information exchange between local and federal authorities, Section 1373 is simply a safety net for local authorities to trade information they may have received. It does not necessitate the type of overarching compliance that Sessions seemed to imply in his statement.
The Attorney General also referred to immigration detainers — requests from immigration officials that local authorities hold illegal immigrants accused of serious crimes for either up to 48 hours or until the immigration officials decide the case requires their own action. Detainers are highly controversial because some experts believe they circumvent the 5th amendment, which disallows detainment without reasonable suspicion. Additionally, to require local agencies to comply with all detainers increases the chance of unconstitutionally commandeering law enforcement.
It is perhaps most important to note that Congress — and not the executive branch — is in charge of the discussed funding programs. What Sessions is proposing comes extremely close to executive overreach, with the possibility of moving into unconstitutional grounds if he attempts to walk back already appropriated federal funds.
Jeff Sessions spent his time at the press briefing spreading false information and using fear tactics to promote his own agenda. His proposed policies, which were vague and lacking background, clearly state that he does not have the best interest of America at heart — exactly as Coretta Scott King warned us in 1986.