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‘Sanctuary’ policies lead to threat from DOJ

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The U.S. Department of Justice has sent letters to nine jurisdictions nationwide – New Mexico not included – asking them to prove they are cooperating with immigration enforcement or face funding cuts.

DOJ addressed letters to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as officials in Las Vegas, Nev.; New Orleans, Philadelphia, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, Chicago and Cook County, Ill.

Despite perennial debates in cities and counties statewide over “sanctuary” policies to protect undocumented immigrants – including restrictions on cooperation between local and federal law enforcement – DOJ has not yet targeted any New Mexico jurisdictions. DOJ did not immediately respond to Journal questions about whether similar letters may be sent to additional localities.

Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe officials said they don’t believe their cities will be singled out.

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said a characteristic of a “sanctuary jurisdiction” is “a refusal to cooperate or provide information” to federal authorities.

“We have never felt that we would meet that definition,” he said.

The DOJ letters ask officials to show documentation validating their compliance with federal statute U.S.C. 1373, which prohibits any federal, state or local government entity from restricting government entities or officials from sharing information about an individual’s citizenship or immigration status.

Mayors in some of the nation’s largest cities, including New York and Chicago, have been defiant in the face of promises by the Trump administration to withhold funding if local law enforcement refuses to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“Failure to comply with this condition could result in the withholding of grant funds … or other action, as appropriate,” DOJ said in the letters.

Many local and county jurisdictions in New Mexico have toed a fine line when working with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.

Albuquerque police, for example, won’t ask about immigration status during a routine stop, but the city provides desk space for a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer at its prison transport center, where ICE can review the immigration status of arrested individuals.

“The federal government, it’s their place to enforce the immigration laws and they do,” Berry said. “When it comes to fighting crime, I believe that is a reasonable area for local law enforcement to provide access and opportunities for (the federal government) to do their job.”

Las Cruces police also won’t ask after immigration status but also won’t refuse to help when asked.

“It’s not our job to enforce federal law but if we’re asked by ICE or Border Patrol or another federal agency to help out with a situation regarding an immigration issue, we stand by the federal government,” said Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima.

Santa Fe’s city council in February approved a resolution reaffirming the city’s status as a welcoming community for immigrants and refugees – but stopped short of using the word “sanctuary.” Mayor Javier Gonzales has been outspoken about the city’s support of immigrant families.

“We believe we are in compliance with all federal laws,” said Matt Ross, a spokesman in the Santa Fe mayor’s office. “We don’t think our policies violate any federal statutes.”

Across New Mexico, “municipalities have consistently shown that they won’t be bullied by the Trump administration into engaging in unconstitutional policing,” said Kristin Love, staff attorney with the ACLU in Albuquerque.

A report by the Pew Research Center based on 2014 data estimated the population of undocumented immigrants in New Mexico at 85,000.

In the letters, DOJ asks for proof of cooperation with immigration authorities, citing the terms of a specific funding mechanism, the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, or JAG program.

New Mexico received $2.4 million under the JAG program in fiscal 2016, a slice of the total $31.5 million in DOJ funding received last fiscal year, according to the Office of Justice Programs.

JAG funding to New Mexico in fiscal 2016 included $1.6 million to the state Department of Public Safety. Additionally, $479,125 went to Albuquerque, $42,240 to Gallup, $31,665 to Las Cruces and $19,631 to Santa Fe. Doña Ana, Valencia and San Juan counties also received funding, among others.