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ABQ, take federal funds to fight violent crime

With 82 recorded homicides, 2019 had the dubious distinction of being the deadliest year in Albuquerque’s history. This trend was coupled with persistently high numbers of other types of violent crime, including aggravated assaults.

To help Albuquerque in its struggle to make headway against this violence epidemic, on Dec. 18, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced Albuquerque had been selected as one of just seven U.S. cities to be part of Operation Relentless Pursuit, a Department of Justice initiative aimed at securing for Albuquerque the same reduced levels of violent crime that our nation as a whole has enjoyed.

A key component of Operation Relentless Pursuit is the availability of up to $71 million in grant funding to support state and local law enforcement in the seven cities. Albuquerque could thus receive over $10 million in federal funds to help fight violent crime.

As with all federal money, however, these grants come with conditions. To be eligible, Albuquerque must certify it complies with certain aspects of federal immigration law, including the requirement local governments allow federal authorities to audit records to ensure the city hires only workers who are eligible for employment in the United States. The city must also certify it complies with 8 U.S.C. § 1373 – a provision of federal immigration law that makes it illegal for a state or local government entity to prohibit entities or employees within its purview from sharing with federal law enforcement certain information about an individual’s immigration status.

As a self-proclaimed sanctuary city, however, Albuquerque has previously refused to accept federal grants having such conditions. For example, the Justice Department has awarded Albuquerque millions of dollars in grants for projects vital to public safety, including the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI). SAKI funds could be used to address the backlog of untested rape kits in Albuquerque so that unsolved cases can be solved and rapists can be taken off of Albuquerque’s streets.

Unfortunately, these SAKI funds are currently in limbo due to the city’s view of the above provisions. Nonetheless, with violent crime out of control in Albuquerque, the Justice Department sincerely hopes that the city can somehow find its way into accepting the millions of dollars of other desperately needed funds available under Operation Relentless Pursuit. We do not want the people of Albuquerque to lose out on safety. The Justice Department shares the city’s vision of Albuquerque as a welcoming community for people of all racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Indeed, Albuquerque justly celebrates its rich tradition of cultural diversity. As in past years, enforcement of federal immigration laws is not motivated by racism or xenophobia. Instead the principle goal of federal immigration enforcement is to enforce the law and keep our communities safe; and given the high rates of violent crime in our city, we need to use every tool available to achieve that goal.

Immigration enforcement is one such tool. Local officials once routinely cooperated with federal immigration enforcement agents so that felony offenders in local jails who had no legal immigration status could be safely removed from our community and not simply released onto our streets.

As a city struggling with staggeringly high crime rates, it seems hard to argue with that. But sanctuary city policies that make it more difficult to remove dangerous criminal aliens result in a city that is less safe, not more. In principal and in practice, Albuquerque should be accepting of federal immigration enforcement and should see its way clear to certifying its compliance with federal law.

As a matter of principle, Albuquerque should use every tool at its disposal to reduce violent crime and make our city safer. And as a practical matter, we sure could use these federal funds to help in that effort.

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