DHS explores criminal charges against officials in sanctuary cities

UPDATE — 1/24, 4:41 p.m. EST: The Justice Department on Wednesday requested documentation from 23 jurisdictions with “sanctuary” policies showing they were in compliance with federal immigration law under the threat of subpoena. 

In response to the move, which ultimately threatens federal funds for some states and cities, several sanctuary city mayors refused to attend a previously planned White House meeting with President Trump, including: New York’s Bill de Blasio, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, Los Angeles’ Eric Garcetti, New Orleans’ Mitch Landrieu and Columbia, S.C.’s Steve Benjamin — all Democrats.

Burnsville, Minn., Mayor Elizabeth Kautz was the sole Republican to cancel.  U.S. Conference of Mayors President Mitch Landrieu said in a statement: “Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s decision to threaten mayors and demonize immigrants yet again – and use cities as political props in the process – has made this meeting untenable.”


Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told a U.S. Senate panel Tuesday her agency has inquired with federal prosecutors about the possibility of criminally charging officials in sanctuary cities for violations related to the enforcement of immigration law.

Asked by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) if DHS was currently working with the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against state or local officials over immigration enforcement, Nielsen replied:

“I believe the request was made the DOJ is reviewing what avenues might be available, the context of this is of course not only putting my ICE officers at risk, but also finding an efficient and effective way to enforce our immigration laws.”

Nielsen immediately acknowledged the request to explore filing charges against state and local officials for refusing to cooperate with federal authorities in enforcing immigration law originated with her agency.

Nielsen’s testimony follows several recent warnings from the Trump administration. In early January, acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director, Tom Homan, told Fox News of coming changes to the enforcement of immigration law.

“What I’m also doing is working with the Department of Justice. For these sanctuary cities that knowingly shield and harbor an illegal alien in their jail and don’t allow us access, that is, in my opinion, a violation of 8-USC-1324. That’s an alien smuggling statute.”

“Another thing they need to do, they need to hold these politicians personally accountable. I mean, more citizens are going to die because of these policies.”

Kamala Harris’ press secretary, Tyrone Gayle, said the Democratic senator was “deeply disturbed to hear that this Administration is actively looking for ways to prosecute California elected officials who have passed laws to protect public safety and combat the damaging effects of this Administration’s immigration enforcement policies.”

Civil rights advocates further argue that the federal arrest of state and local officials is illegal and a violation of the First Amendment.

President Trump has previously threatened to cut federal aid to sanctuary cities. Both Chicago and the state of California have sued the federal government over funding tied to their immigrant sanctuary policies.

The subject of heated debate, sanctuary jurisdictions are areas in which illegal immigrants seek haven with the protection of local or state government. Self-declared sanctuaries limit cooperation with federal officials in immigration enforcement.


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