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The federal government has moved closer to following through on a threat to pull funding from cities and states that have so-called sanctuary city policies that protect undocumented citizens from deportation.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice sent letters to the City of Jackson and 28 other cities, counties and states saying each may have laws, policies or practices that violate a federal statute that promotes information sharing related to immigration enforcement, which could put their eligibility for federal grants and funding related to law enforcement at risk.
According to the letters, signed by Al Hanson, an acting assistant attorney general, federal statute 8 U.S.C. 1373 states that any provision of federal, state or local government entity may not prohibit or restrict any government official or entity from sending or receiving information about citizen or immigration status to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In a letter dated Nov. 15 but addressed to former Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber, federal justice officials cite an ordinance Jackson adopted in 2010 that prohibits police from questioning people about their immigration status solely to determine if they are in the country illegally.
The funding in question is the city’s fiscal year 2016 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, or JAG, award. The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program JAG allows states and units of local government, including tribes, to support a broad range of activities to prevent and control crime based on their own state and local needs and conditions, the Department of Justice website says.
Mississippi received $1.8 million from the program in fiscal year 2017, records show.
“The letters remind the recipient jurisdictions that, as a condition for receiving certain FY2016 funding from the Department of Justice, each of these jurisdictions agreed to comply with Section 1373,” the DOJ statement says.
The 29 cities, counties and states notified have until Dec. 8 to prove their interpretation and application of their laws, policies, or practices comply with the statute. Other government entities who were notified include the cities of Albany; Los Angeles; Denver; and Washington, D. C.; and the states of Illinois; Oregon; and Vermont.
“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a news release. “I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents. We urge jurisdictions to not only comply with Section 1373, but also to establish sensible and effective partnerships to properly process criminal aliens.”
In March, Sessions announced the Trump administration would withhold federal criminal justice grants from cities, counties and states that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Sessions said state and local jurisdictions must certify they are complying with federal immigration laws in order to receive federal funds.
Yarber and city council members told Mississippi Today at the time said they did not intend to repeal the anti-profiling ordinance, saying Jackson is not a sanctuary city and that the ordinance has more to do with human rights.
A spokeswoman for the City of Jackson said the city’s legal department is reviewing the letter.