Commentary: Putting 'sanctuary cities' on ICE

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Last week, President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security put the brakes on its three-week-old policy of issuing weekly reports calling out so-called “sanctuary cities” — after municipalities on the lists and immigration advocates criticized the data involved. It was the latest attempt to turn “sanctuary cities” into a political cudgel. Once again, it backfired.

“Sanctuary cities” were a longtime hobbyhorse of former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who used the term when he introduced legislation to block some federal funding to certain cities during his Senate tenure. In his final weeks in office, Vitter said, “During my decadelong fight to end sanctuary city policies, Senate Democrats and over 300 cities across the nation have foregone the safety of American families and communities in order to coddle and protect the 170,000 convicted criminal aliens who remain at-large in the U.S.”

Coddle? Hardly. The term “sanctuary city” doesn’t even have a legal definition. It is generally applied to jurisdictions that do not force local law enforcement to do the work of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Instead, those jurisdictions direct local cops to do their jobs by pursuing wrongdoers regardless of their immigration status. It also allows undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear of being arrested themselves. Such policies reduce crime, not increase it.

Nevertheless, grandstanding politicians like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and newly minted U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy claim “sanctuary” policies turn a blind eye to criminal activity. They say this mostly to appear tough on crime without doing much about it. Landry even took a trip to Washington D.C. last year to testify before a Republican House committee on border security. He said New Orleans is a “magnet” for criminal immigrants, citing a Honduran immigrant who caused a fatal bus crash on I-10. Landry became a laughingstock when it was revealed the man actually lived in Jefferson Parish, which is not a “sanctuary” parish. The company that owned the bus he was driving likewise was domiciled outside New Orleans. Still, Landry persisted.

Last month Kennedy distributed a letter addressed to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, claiming the New Orleans Police Department was violating a federal law requiring local governments to cooperate with ICE or risk losing federal funding. Actually, the opposite is true.

NOPD and the Orleans Parish Prison are under separate federal consent decrees with the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the guidance of ICE, both local agencies have drafted policies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Last month, Mayor Mitch Landrieu clarified for the umpteenth time that “New Orleans is not a sanctuary city and our police department’s policy on immigration complies with federal law.” NOPD Chief Michael Harrison told members of the New Orleans City Council this month that “who gets elected does not determine how well we deliver police services.”

The Center for American Progress reports 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 100,000 residents in so-called “sanctuary” areas, supporting Landrieu’s claims that NOPD’s policies make New Orleans safer. The feds have the resources — and the responsibility — to police immigration. Local cops do not.


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