Lumumba, advocates fire back at feds’ claim Jackson is a ‘sanctuary’ city

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Kendra Ablaza, Mississippi Today

Immigration advocates criticized the Justice Department move to defund so-called sanctuary cities. From left: Bill Chander, L. Patricia Ice and Brenda Scott, officials with the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance.

Immigration rights advocates and City of Jackson officials strongly disagree with the federal government’s conclusion the city’s anti-racial and ethnic profiling ordinance makes it a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. 

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba on Thursday responded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent threats to cut law enforcement funding, saying City of Jackson officials “unflinchingly uphold the canon of human rights for human beings.”

“It is my belief that the action taken by the City of Jackson to enact an anti-racial profiling ordinance is not in violation of the law, but to the contrary is an effort to undergird the long-standing ideals that are firmly cemented within our justice system,” Lumumba said.

City of Jackson

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba

The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, a Jackson-based nonprofit, also defended the ordinance, saying it was not created as a “sanctuary” policy as the U.S. Department of Justice suggests in a letter sent to the city Wednesday.

At a news conference Thursday in the organization’s offices, L. Patricia Ice, MIRA’s legal project director, said she drafted and lobbied for the ordinance before it was adopted in 2010.

“We may have had the ordinance because the late Chokwe Lumumba, he wanted to see the ordinance get passed,  but I really lit a fire under him and others to try to get this ordinance passed,” Ice said, referring to the late former mayor and father of the current Jackson mayor.

She said the ordinance does not violate a federal statute the Department of Justice stating that no 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.

The Justice Department is threatening to cut law enforcement funding in Jackson and 28 other cities, counties and states over adopted policies they say may disregard federal immigration law, also known as “sanctuaries” from immigration.

The move stems from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement in March that the Trump administration would withhold federal criminal justice grants from cities, counties and states that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Sessions has said state and local jurisdictions must certify they are complying with federal immigration laws in order to receive federal funds.

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.

The funding at risk 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.

Bill Chandler, executive director and founder of Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance called the attempt on cutting the city’s funding “shallow,” pointing out that the letter to Jackson was erroneously addressed to former Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber, who lost reelection earlier this year to Lumumba.

“If they had read the whole (ordinance) from beginning to end, they would find it does not violate any kind of federal laws that govern arrest and apprehension of people that are undocumented,” Chandler said.