PHOTOS BY GAGE SKIDMORE/NICK PRETE / CREATIVE COMMONS
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The dispute between Mayor Mitch Landrieu and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions over New Orleans' compliance with federal immigration authorities has seemingly hit another wall.
It's been a caustic back and forth, following hardline immigration policies and rhetoric from President Donald Trump, lawsuits over cities and "sanctuary" policies, and aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) action.
Landrieu says the city and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) do
communicate with ICE, and nothing in NOPD policy prohibits the department from sharing information with the feds. Sessions says
the city harbors people living in the country illegally through NOPD policy that effectively gives them "sanctuary." Landrieu says NOPD arrests people regardless of status and that "New Orleans is not a sanctuary city
." Sessions says
NOPD policy doesn't go far enough to open communication between the city and the feds when an undocumented person is in custody.
On Nov. 16, Landrieu, City Attorney Rebecca Dietz and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison met with Sessions and U.S. Sen. John Neely Kennedy. Landrieu said the meeting went well — once again assuring that the feds agree with Landrieu that the city does not have "sanctuary" policies.
"We are pleased that the Attorney General and Senator Kennedy have come around to agreeing with the point we have made all along — New Orleans is not a 'sanctuary city' and the NOPD’s policies have maintained consistent compliance [with the law]," Landrieu said.
But Kennedy and Sessions saw the meeting a little differently.
Last month, Kennedy apologized to Sessions in Congress after Landrieu wrote to Sessions, urging him that "instead of fear-mongering and false accusations, " he should "work with mayors across the nation to tackle violent crime through smart, evidence-based policing."
"He called you a fear mongerer and basically called you a liar," Kennedy told Sessions. "I apologize on behalf of Louisiana."
Kennedy's political maneuvering led to him brokering the meeting between the parties. Landrieu's office already has met with Sessions over the issue. Twice.
Landrieu agreed to the meeting but also asked Kennedy to support expanding funding for the COPS program, expanding Homeland Security grant programs for cities, investing in mental health and substance abuse recovery programs, building consensus around gun safety legislation, and establishing the Presidential Crime and Justice Commission and reforming federal sentencing guidelines to support reentry programs for incarcerated people. Those requests likely weren't considered.
In a statement last night, Landrieu called the meeting a "political stunt" and urged Sessions and Kennedy to allow Landrieu to bring in U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond as well as Dietz and Harrison. Richmond couldn't make it.
"Since this is supposed to be a meeting about substance, I cannot imagine why they are not willing to allow a mayor to bring the policy experts who can speak to the issues," Landrieu said. "New Orleans is not a sanctuary city, and we will follow all laws. I am urging Attorney General Sessions and Senator Kennedy to allow our City's top law enforcement officer, lawyer and Congressman to attend so we can have a substantive discussion and put this issue to rest once and for all."
Now Kennedy and Sessions say New Orleans is partially compliant, but only on the condition that the city notify ICE within 48 hours of NOPD releasing an undocumented person, and that the city give ICE permission to interview an undocumented immigrant in custody.
Those "ICE holds," however, fall under the jurisdiction of Orleans Parish Prison. The jail previously was targeted by the Trump-era Department of Justice for "sanctuary" policies but seemingly has been left off Sessions' "noncompliance" list.
The meeting also follows Sessions' announcement of another round of cities
the office has declared noncompliant. As with New Orleans, what could be at stake are certain federal funds granted to each municipality. Sessions gave those cities until Dec. 8 to "demonstrate that the interpretation and application of their laws, policies, or practices comply" with the feds.
"Our police department will continue to focus on arresting criminals — irrespective of their immigration status," Landrieu said in a statement. "In New Orleans, we pride ourselves on being a welcoming city. Diversity is a strength, and we will continue to make the city safe for everyone."