The Department of Justice has made good on its promise that grant money would be in jeopardy for so-called “sanctuary” cities and states. The threat comes around the same time a survey from the Wall Street Journal found that no members of Congress representing border territory support President Trump’s plan to build a wall. Many of them are opposed to it, with some saying they are noncommittal.
“Failure to comply with this condition could result in the withholding of grant funds, suspension or termination of the grant, ineligibility for future [Office of Justice Programs] grants or subgrants, or other action, as appropriate,” according to the letter, signed by Alan Hanson, acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs.
According to the press release, the jurisdictions have a deadline of June 30, 2017, to “provide documentation and an opinion from legal counsel” confirming their compliance. The memo was sent on Friday to city and state officials in California, Chicago (two letters were sent to Chicago: one to Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and another to Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle), New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee and New York City.
The letter sent last week specifically cites Office of Justice Programs grants, which alone do not largely impact budgets. The New York Times reports:
“The dollar amounts for the grants in question are relatively small compared with the overall budgets of governments that received the letters. For example, according to the Justice Department, the City of New York received a $4.3 million grant in 2016.
“Other places sent a letter included the State of California, which received $10.4 million, divvied up among 128 cities and counties; Chicago and its county, Cook, shared a $2.3 million grant; New Orleans, $265,832; Las Vegas’s Clark County, $11,537; Miami-Dade County, $481,347; Milwaukee County, $937,932; and Philadelphia, $1.7 million.”
This comes out to a total of roughly $20.4 million. To compare, the missile strike on Syria earlier this month involved 59 Tomahawk missiles. With each missile worth anywhere between an estimated $832,000 and $1 million, that comes out to a conservative total of $49 million for the strike — more than double the threatened cuts to sanctuary cities.
In 2016, cities used their grants for various initiatives, including police and public safety.
“Sanctuary cities” is a broad term used to described areas that, in general, do not unlawfully hold immigrants simply at the request of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), unless he or she has been charged with a serious crime. Local law enforcement agencies are not required to enforce federal immigration laws or even provide immigration status to ICE or customs officials about suspects in custody, except under limited circumstances.
The letter points to a section of the U.S. Constitution regarding cooperation with immigration officials: 8 U.S.C. § 1373 states that government and other entities may not “prohibit” or “restrict” Immigration and Naturalization Service information. But it does not — and, constitutionally, cannot — force city police departments to act as immigration agents.
A press release accompanying the letters claims that “many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.”
However, statistics show that immigrants are in fact less likely to be criminals than native-born citizens. In fact, cities who protect immigrants tend to have even less rates of crime when compared to others.
Trump’s demand that “sanctuary cities” publish lists of crimes committed by undocumented is undaunted by far higher criminality of people born here.
Specifically, it cites New York City as adopting a “soft on crime” position, resulting in “gang murder after gang murder.” It also references a large spike in Chicago’s murder rate.
While 2015 did see the first national uptick in violent crime since 2006, the trend has otherwise been mostly on the decline, FBI data shows. And some cities, notably Chicago, have seen an increase in crime rates, but this does not align with the national trend.
New York City was not one of the cities that saw an uptick in crime — in fact, the opposite was true. In 2016 the city saw a historically low crime rate. Shootings were under 1,000 for the first time since the city started tracking this information, going down by 12 percent compared to 2015.
Officials slammed the Justice Department in response, with NYPD spokesperson J. Peter Donald questioning the claim that New York is “soft on crime.”
Did DOJ really say the NYPD is soft on crime?
— J. Peter Donald (@JPeterDonald) April 21, 2017
Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said at a press conference, alongside NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, that the Trump administration’s statement “has denigrated not only the people of New York City but the men and women of the NYPD.”
“We did not become the safest big city in America by being ‘soft on crime,’” de Blasio said, calling the administration “out of touch with this city.”
O’Neill said that when he saw the statement, “My blood began to boil.”
“To say we’re soft on crime is absolutely ludicrous,” O’Neill said.
The mayor also sent a string of tweets at the DoJ’s claim that seemed to attack the NYPD.
President Trump and Attorney General Sessions must immediately decide if they stand by the statement that the NYPD is “soft on crime.”
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 21, 2017
If President Trump believes it, then I invite him to come to NYC, look our officers in the eye and tell them they’re soft on crime.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 21, 2017
I want to express my thanks to the men and women of the NYPD for what they have achieved in making this the safest big city in America.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 21, 2017
The Justice Department responded with an additional statement:
“Unfortunately, the Mayor’s policies are hamstringing the brave NYPD officers that protect the city, and only serve to endanger the lives of the hard working men and women of the NYPD who care more about keeping their city and country safe than they do about city hall politics.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his state is “ready” to fight the Trump administration on its latest threat.
“We’re the innovation capital, high-tech, agriculture, 40, 50 billion-dollar industry. You don’t want to mess with California,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in response to the president’s attack on the state.
“We have been abiding by federal law for quite some time before Jeff Sessions became the attorney general,” Becerra said. “We’re going to continue to abide by federal law and the U.S. constitution. And we’re hoping the federal government will also abide by the U.S. constitution, which gives my state the right to decide how to do public safety. That’s not their responsibility under the U.S. Constitution.”
“We fully respect that they have the responsibility to enforce immigration law,” he added. “So, we’re in the business of public safety. We’re not in the business of deportation.”
Fact Check: Rise in Crime and Criminalization of Immigrants
President Trump has perpetuated two false narratives during his short presidency: that crime is nationally on the rise, and that immigrants are more likely to be criminals than native-born citizens
At a White House meeting with county sheriffs in February Trump claimed that the murder rate is the highest it’s been in 47 years.
“… the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that?” he said. “Forty-seven years. I used to use that — I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised, because the press doesn’t tell it like it is. It wasn’t to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, from 45 to 47 years.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions similarly said the “rise in crime” is “a dangerous permanent trend.”
After the president signed three executive orders focused on crime reduction, new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred to an upward trend in violent crime that data does not support.
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics tells a different story.
The murder rate per 100,000 people was 8.8 in 1977, and a steady upward trend was seen until the mid-1990s. Since 1994 it has mostly been on the decline, and, as the FBI reported, in 2015 the rate was 4.9. So while 2015 did see an uptick when compared to 2014, the first time since 2006, the assertion that the rates themselves are at an all-time high is incorrect.
And the data to support Trump’s desire to paint undocumented immigrants as being dangerous or more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans does not exist.
A 2015 study by the American Immigration Council found that not only are immigrants less likely to commit serious crimes or be incarcerated than native-born residents, but high rates of immigration correlate with even lower rates of violent and property crimes.
“This disparity in incarceration rates has existed for decades, as evidenced by data from the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses,” the authors note. “In each of those years, the incarceration rates of the native-born were anywhere from two to five times higher than that of immigrants.”
In fact, as the immigrant population has increased over the years, rates of violent crime have decreased. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of undocumented immigrants went from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.
“During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent — which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder,” the study states. “Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent.”
The pattern held true over a period of time and spanned cities nationally — particularly in cities that have been welcoming to the immigrant population.
“Some scholars suggest that new immigrants may revitalize dilapidated urban areas, ultimately reducing violent crime rates,” the researchers state.
“In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not ‘criminal’ by any commonly accepted definition of the term,” the researchers sum up. “For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime.”