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Federal justice officials have officially put the city of Jackson on notice for what President Trump’s administration considers a sanctuary city policy.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that 22 other cities, counties and states must submit documents that could reveal if they are refusing to share information with the department and other federal immigration agencies.
The department sent letters to 23 cities, counties and states—including New York City, Los Angeles and Denver; and the states of Illinois and Oregon—asking for documents showing formal or informal “orders, directives, instructions, or guidance to your law enforcement employees … regarding whether and how these employees may, or may not, communicate with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or their agents, whether directly or indirectly.”
The department also said it would subpoena those documents if these cities, counties and states do not respond by Feb. 23.
“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “We have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement—enough is enough.”
Kai Williams, communications manager for the City of Jackson, said the Mayor’s office has not received a letter, and did not comment further.
Jackson has gained attention from state and federal officials for its 2010 anti-racial profiling ordinance, which prohibits police officers from asking about suspects’ immigration status during routine traffic stops.
It has also drawn the ire of state leaders who say undocumented immigrants are a costly burden to taxpayers. Gov. Phil Bryant acknowledged the ordinance before signing an anti-sanctuary cities bill into law last March.
The law, then known as Senate Bill 2710, took effect immediately by voiding policies that municipalities, counties and agencies may adopt to limit or prohibit any person from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies to verify or report the immigration status of any person.
The law also voids any policies that grant a person lawful presence or status within the state, whether that is in a county or city, or a university, college, community college or junior college.
Bryant signed the law on the same day 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.
The order became the subject of a federal court challenge in California, which is pending appeal.
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 latest Justice Department memo came on the same day that Jackson-based nonprofit Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance and its allies gathered its annual “Civic Engagement Day” event. Representatives of the group say the federal government’s actions against Jackson are even more reason to fight legislation at the state level the group considers to be anti-immigrant.
Among the bills proposed this year is House Bill 1506, drafted by Reps. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, Randy P. Boyd, R-Mantachie, and Steve Hopkins, R-Southhaven.
Like past bills, House Bill 1506 would require local and state law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration officials. The bill would also require public schools to determine the status of students they enroll and prohibit undocumented workers from entering into business transactions with the state.
The legislation would also retain for at least three years information from E-Verify, an online system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
“One reason we’re harping on (House Bill 1506) so much is that it’s trying to undo the progressive things here, like our Anti-Racial Profiling Ordinance,” L. Patricia Ice, MIRA’s legal project director, said.
Ice, who helped draft Jackson’s Anti-Racial Profiling Ordinance, said the legislature last year passed Senate Bill 2710 to eliminate the ordinance. This year, House Bill 1506 takes it a step further, she said.
“This year, they’re attacking it even more and telling people that they can sue cities and political subdivisions if the city has one of those ordinances,” Ice said. “If the plaintiff is successful, then the city has to pay fines until they get rid of the ordinance.”
Ice spoke out against the first round of letters the Department of Justice sent the city last November, saying the ordinance does not violate the federal statute the department is citing.
“It’s not even that strong of an ordinance, but they’re attacking it,” Ice said Wednesday. “The ordinance is really to prevent racial profiling for everybody, not just for immigrants.”
City leaders have also stood by the ordinance. In November, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba responded to the U.S. Department of Justice’s threats to cut law enforcement funding, saying City of Jackson officials “unflinchingly uphold the canon of human rights for human beings.”
Also on Wednesday, MIRA supporters brought attention to House Resolution 1, which urges Mississippi law enforcement and governmental agencies to avoid and suspend all contacts and outreach activities with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, known as the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
MIRA board member and Madison resident Aemal Nafis, who was at the news conference representing the Mississippi Muslim Association, said this is a first time the Muslim community in Mississippi has had to fight against something like this.
She encourages MIRA supporters to vote and run for office, including school boards or religious organizations, so they can fight against these kinds of bills.
“For years, undocumented workers and immigrants have always had to come and fight for the past 16 years against discriminatory, xenophobic bills,” Nafil said. “In that case I don’t think we’re making progress. There have always been, every single year.”