Sessions praises Miami-Dade progress, challenges crime-ridden Chicago to end ‘sanctuary’ policy

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, flanked by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez (left) and Tom Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, hailed the Florida county as a place that reversed its “sanctuary” policies for illegal immigrants and lowered ...

By Andrea Noble and Stephen Dinan - The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a direct challenge to Chicago on Wednesday, saying the high number of homicides is no coincidence for a city that refuses to cooperate with federal deportation authorities, while Miami is cooperating — and reaping the benefits of public safety.

Traveling on Wednesday to Miami-Dade County, one of two jurisdictions that the Justice Department recently cleared of having “sanctuary” policies that defy federal immigration laws, Mr. Sessions said working with federal authorities means safer communities.

“Miami-Dade is an example of what is possible through hard work, professional policing and a dedication to the rule of law,” said Mr. Sessions, citing the city’s progress in reducing violent crime and homicides since the 1980s.

“Unfortunately, we have areas of the country that are not doing too well,” Mr. Sessions said. “In Chicago — a city with almost exactly the same 2.7 million person population of Miami-Dade — more than 433 people have been murdered just since the beginning of the year. That’s more than three times as many as Miami-Dade.”

The attorney general pointed specifically to the days surrounding Independence Day, when more than 100 shootings and 15 homicides were reported in Chicago.

“Miami-Dade also had a historic number of shooting deaths: zero,” Mr. Sessions said.

The praise-and-shame strategy is the latest step in an escalating campaign by the Justice Department to compel better cooperation from jurisdictions that have policies that shield illegal immigrants. Mr. Sessions has threatened to cut off federal grant funding for communities that don’t comply with federal law.

Chicago and surrounding Cook County were pioneers in the sanctuary city movement, enacting some of the earliest policies refusing cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance” prevents illegal immigrants from being held for pickup by immigration authorities unless they have been convicted of a serious crime or are being sought on a criminal warrant. It also bars U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from using city facilities for interviews or investigations.

City officials have said the policy helps ensure that immigrant communities trust local law enforcement and are not afraid to report crimes or come forward as witnesses.

Chicago, several other cities and the state of California have filed lawsuits asking courts to halt the Trump administration’s attempts to pressure localities to comply.

Other big cities are backing Chicago in the battle.

“It’s clear from his statement today that Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t understand what it means to run a city that welcomes immigrants,” said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “He doesn’t understand the constitutional protections afforded to all people in our country and their impact on local policies. He doesn’t understand the nature or the causes of crime and violence in our cities.”

But citing several instances in which illegal immigrants were released from Chicago jails and went on to commit violent crimes, Mr. Sessions said the city’s policies do more harm than good.

“These policies of sanctuary cities do far broader damage to the country than many understand. At its root, it is a rejection of our immigration laws and a declaration of open borders,” he said.

A recent survey of the nation’s biggest cities found an increase in the number of homicides reported this year.

According to data provided by 62 police departments to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, departments reported 3,081 homicides in the first six months of the year, an increase of 3 percent over the same time last year. Chicago has led as the deadliest city, and homicide cases have spiked in Baltimore and New Orleans.

Miami-Dade County this year changed its policy on immigration detainers, ordering jails to honor requests to keep inmates in custody past their scheduled release dates to allow time for immigration officials to apprehend them.

“I’m an immigrant myself. But when people are arrested here in Miami-Dade County, to keep our citizens safe, we provide that information, and we will hold and honor those detainer requests, and I think that’s the right policy,” Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez told Fox News on Wednesday.

Federal law prohibits policies that restrict communications with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

Miami-Dade was one of 10 jurisdictions that the Trump administration asked to prove compliance with the law after the Obama administration flagged them last year for potential violations.

Miami-Dade County and Clark County, Nevada, received letters this month from the Justice Department certifying that they are following the law.

Mr. Sessions said the certification means “more money for crime fighting.”

Other jurisdictions still awaiting replies from the Justice Department include the states of California and Connecticut; the municipalities of Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia; and Milwaukee County in Wisconsin and Cook County in Illinois.

At stake is millions of dollars in federal grant money.

“We cannot continue giving taxpayer money to cities that actively undermine the safety and efficacy of federal law enforcement and actively frustrate efforts to reduce crime in their own cities,” Mr. Sessions said. “So if people of Chicago and these other cities are concerned about losing money, I suggest not calling me; call your city council and your mayor.”

President Trump and Mr. Sessions, who have been at odds over the attorney general’s recusal from overseeing an investigation into Russia’s election meddling, seemed to patch up their differences. The White House issued a memo Wednesday saying the two men were united in taking a stand “against lawless sanctuary cities.”

The White House also praised Miami-Dade for changing its policy to get on the right side of Mr. Trump.

But praise was one-sided. Just ahead of Mr. Sessions’ speech, Mr. Gimenez issued a statement slamming Mr. Trump’s “ambiguity” over a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that ended in deadly violence.

“It was very disappointing to hear President Trump essentially take back his comments from Monday condemning white supremacists and their actions in Charlottesville,” Mr. Gimenez said. “There should be no ambiguity about what took place in Charlottesville.”