County News

Attorney general vows to pull funds from ‘sanctuary’ counties

Tags: Justice

Santa Clara County, Calif.  lawsuit seeks relief from Trump executive order

Counties must enforce federal immigration laws or risk losing $4.1 billion in crime-fighting grants in the current fiscal year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced March 27.

Sessions, appearing before reporters at a White House press briefing, urged leaders of so-called “sanctuary cities” to comply or risk losing their federal grants.

“I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws and to re-think these policies,” Sessions said. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars.”

The federal government is expected to dispense $4.1 billion in grants this year through the Office of Justice Programs and the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS,  program, but “sanctuary cities,” Sessions said, risk having the funds taken away or denied.

NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase said the attorney general’s remarks present “serious legal issues” for counties.

Learn More

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' remarks on sanctuary jurisdictions

Miranda-Livares v. Clackamas County

ICE detainer outcome reports

“The recent remarks by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions raise serious legal issues for county governments,” Chase said. “Based on various federal court rulings and our clear understanding of U.S. constitutional provisions — including the Fourth, Fifth and 10th amendments — county leaders are already cooperating with federal immigration officials, including ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), when appropriate.”

A 2014 federal court case, Miranda-Olivares vs. Clackamas County, held that counties which hold people in jail for federal agencies without probable cause violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

“ICE detainers are voluntary actions by local governments, clearly not mandatory,” Chase noted. “As stated repeatedly by county executives and sheriffs, counties routinely comply with ICE detainer requests with the required court warrants or orders. Otherwise, when ICE requests a detainer without a court order or warrant, our counties are hit with lawsuits and legal actions based on Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless arrest, which extend to all individuals in the United States, regardless of immigration status.”

The attorney general’s announcement March 27 comes just days before the April 5 hearing for the Santa Clara County, Calif.’s lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s executive order promising to withhold all federal funding from “sanctuary jurisdictions.” 

At the hearing, a federal court will consider Santa Clara’s request for national injunctive relief from the order.

“The attorney general’s move is intended to force jurisdictions to follow a wrongheaded immigration policy that does not align with our local values,” said Jeffrey V. Smith, Santa Clara County executive.  “The county looks forward to the hearing on April 5, at which the federal court will hear arguments about the danger of an unchecked executive branch and the dire implications for the health, safety and well-being of our county’s residents if President Trump is allowed to trample our Constitution.”

Reacting to Sessions’ announcement, King County, Wash. Executive Dow Constantine said his county “will not be bullied.”

“If this is about coercing a local jurisdiction to imprison people without judicial process then no, we will not be bullied — we will continue to honor the Constitution, rather than the extrajudicial orders of any person, including the president,” he said.

“That may or may not put some Department of Justice funding to communities like ours at risk,” Constantine said. “If this order is a precursor to an attempt to withhold other federal funds, the White House will face legal challenges. Case law restricts the federal government’s ability to place extraneous conditions on spending and grants for state and local governments.”

The Department of Homeland Security recently began calling out cities and counties in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Declined Detainer Outcome Report, a weekly look at jurisdictions that choose not to cooperate with ICE detainers.

President Donald Trump’s executive order obligates the Department of Homeland Security to compile the weekly list of the top jurisdictions that refuse detainer requests.

The latest report that ICE issued shows 2,825 detainers throughout the U.S.

Hennepin County, Minn., authorities expressed surprise to see they were listed on an earlier ICE report as non-complying.

“I think it's grossly unfair that they tell the public that two individuals that were in custody here at the Hennepin County Jail were released back out to the public without any type of cooperation, and that these folks had a criminal background,” Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek told KSTP-TV in a news conference. In fact, he said, the sheriff’s office notified ICE when the two suspects would be released.

Meanwhile, Burlington County, N.J., was surprised to find itself singled out in an ICE press release last month criticizing the jail for releasing an inmate despite an immigration detainer request.

“We have no record of a detainer request,” county spokesman Eric Arpert told The Times of Trenton. He said the jail is in daily communication with officials at a local ICE office and never heard ICE was unhappy with the jail’s dealings with a particular suspect.

“County government leaders, including our policy boards and law enforcement officers, are 100 percent committed to the public safety of America’s communities," Chase said.

 Jonathan Thompson, National Sheriffs’ Association executive director, said the Department of Justice needs to issue legal guidance, the Washington Times reported.

“Until the Department of Justice issues legal guidance confirming the constitutionality of current detainers,” he said, “sheriffs will remain exposed to legal and ethical ramifications.”

Contact the Editor

Bev Schlotterbeck
Executive Editor
(202) 942-4249
bschlott@naco.org