Jeff Sessions: DOJ will ‘claw back’ grants awarded to sanctuary cities

FILE - Inside a jail. (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Inside a jail. (KXAN File Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP/KXAN) — The Trump administration is continuing its tough talk against sanctuary cities. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said he’s “urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws.”

He says the Justice Department will require compliance with immigration laws in order for the cities to receive grants through the Office of Justice Programs. The Obama administration had a similar policy in place.

“The Department of Justice will also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction that willfully violated [U.S. Code 1373],” said Sessions. “I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws and to rethink these policies.”

During his briefing, Sessions says the Department of Justice is awarding more than $4 billion in grants this fiscal year.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who has already stripped hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants to Travis County due to Sheriff Sally Hernandez’ immigration detention stance, applauds Sessions for his actions.

“After years of the previous administration turning a blind eye to this issue, the federal government is sending a clear and necessary message that the laws of this land are going to be enforced,” said Gov. Abbott in a statement. “Texas joins the Trump administration in its commitment to end sanctuary cities, and I look forward to signing legislation that bans these dangerous policies in Texas once and for all.”

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez says her office is “completely lawful and upholding the Constitution with our ICE policy.” Sheriff Hernandez goes on to say her policy does not “prohibit or restrict TCSO personnel from exchanging information regarding the immigration or citizenship status of any individual with ICE.” She said she just requires ICE to provide warrants rather than requests for the ICE detainers.

Council Member Leslie Pool told KXAN the confusion is only creating more fear.

“The statements are breaking trust with our community. They are making our residents feel less safe,” Pool said. “What is happening now with the doubling down from the federal government and from the state government is that our communities, not only Austin but other communities around the state and frankly around the country, will be feeling a lot less safe.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen echoed the thought, saying, “It’s bringing more fear in our communities, which is really inappropriate and makes our communities less safe.”

In a statement, Judge Sarah Eckhardt said, “I am frustrated that Travis County resources and attention are continually diverted from public safety to address unfounded politically motivated allegations of wrong-doing. The section of federal law cited by Attorney General Sessions has been in our federal grants for many years. We are and have been in full compliance with its requirements. The cited provision is thin cloaking for political retribution.”

Sessions said failure to deport aliens convicted of a criminal offense, “puts whole communities at risk, especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators.”

Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN Austin doesn’t fit the attorney general’s description of a sanctuary city.

“When the attorney general was identifying what he calls sanctuary cities, he defined those as cities that are violating federal law, which we’re not in this community,” Adler said. “There shouldn’t be any reason then that the funding be cut off for our area.”

What the attorney general did not call out is the specific cities and counties he’s referring to.

Pool said she’s been searching for a list, and has yet to find one.

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