DOJ gives New Orleans "last chance" on NOPD immigration policy


New Orleans demonstrators rallied to support DACA and immigrant communities in September. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • New Orleans demonstrators rallied to support DACA and immigrant communities in September.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is not convinced the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) complies with federal immigration rules, despite Mayor Mitch Landrieu's repeated assurance that policies limiting officers' involvement in immigration issues are well within bounds.

In a letter to Landrieu, Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Alan Hanson said NOPD policies — which include preventing officers from inquiring about immigration status — "may violate" a section of federal law involving local authorities communicating with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). unless it can prove that the policy does not "restrict New Orleans officers and employees from requesting information regarding immigration status from federal immigration officers."
It's the latest in an ongoing back-and-forth between President Donald Trump's administration and municipalities pegged as so-called "sanctuary cities" allegedly harboring people living in the country illegally.

In a statement announcing "last chance" letters to five cities that "may violate" federal law, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said "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."

"I urge all jurisdictions found to be out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their resident," he added.

As he has repeated following similar threats, Landrieu says NOPD's policy — which followed extensive review with ICE under the federal consent decree — is in "full compliance" with the feds and has argued that the threats made by the Trump administration against the city are unfounded and politically motivated.

Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison also have argued that targeting people through immigration status makes vulnerable communities less likely to report crimes and work with law enforcement.

“As we have maintained for years, the Department of Justice has confirmed that we are in full compliance with [the policy]," Landrieu said in a statement. "Under my Administration, the New Orleans Police Department has and will continue to follow all federal laws; however, the NOPD will not be the federal government’s deportation force. We will build relationships between the NOPD and all community members. The City of New Orleans will not be side-tracked by caustic, political rhetoric that seeks to make us fearful of others and scapegoat immigrants. The NOPD will continue to focus on the arrest and conviction of violent criminals, regardless of their immigration status."
Landrieu added that the letter failed to note that the NOPD policy "does 'not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, [ICE] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.'"

"As such, we continue to state unambiguously that [NOPD policy] does not restrict officers and employees from requesting information regarding immigration status from federal immigration officers," Landrieu said. "Pursuant to standard training procedures, all officers and employees were notified about the policy in September 2016. Instead of fear-mongering and false accusations, we urge you to work with mayors across the nation to tackle violent crime through smart, evidence-based policing."

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry also has pounced on New Orleans over the issue in the wake of Trump's immigration policies. Landry said Landrieu's "blatant disregard for the law would have serious consequences."

“Unfortunately, the Mayor has ignored my many warnings and continued to risk the safety, security, and funding of our State’s citizens. Mitch Landrieu is playing politics at the expense of New Orleans," Landry said in a statement. “Mitch’s reckless pursuit of national glamour and attention threaten the future of New Orleans ... It is troubling that the Mayor continues to put his partisan politics ahead of public safety.”

The DOJ letter suggests New Orleans' failure to meet its measure of compliance could put the city at risk for losing federal grant funding.

Trump has threatened to full funding from "sanctuary" cities as determined by Sessions' department, but earlier this year, a federal judge blocked efforts by the White House to withhold funding "that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement ... merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves."

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