How Pervasive Is ‘Sanctuary City’ Problem? Cooperation Is News

Federal immigration official believes it's now necessary to trumpet previously unremarkable fact of local jail cooperation

Not long ago, the decision by a local Virginia jail administrative board to continue alerting federal immigration authorities when it was going to release illegal immigrants would have been utterly unremarkable.

In 2018, it qualifies as news.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials felt compelled this week to trumpet the 7-3 vote by the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail (ACRJ) Board. Russell Hott, director of the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Washington field office, praised the vote.

“Plain and simple, the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Board’s decision is in the interest [of] public safety,” Hott said in a statement. “Notification to ICE prior to a criminal alien’s release presents the lowest possible risk to our local neighborhoods and communities and their residents.”

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), told LifeZette a vote to cooperate with ICE should not rise to the level of a news release by a federal agency. But he added that it is understandable why it did.

“It is sort of indicative of how politicized this has become that this is a ‘Wow, they’re doing this.'”

“It is sort of indicative of how politicized this has become that this is a ‘Wow, they’re doing this,'” he said. “It shows you how far, in particular, the Democratic Party has gone.”

Under the policy, whenever ICE has alerted the jail that it wants to take custody of an illegal immigrant who is behind bars, local officials inform the federal agency when that inmate is within 48 hours of his release date.

With the rise of “sanctuary” policies across the country, scores of cities and counties do not extend ICE that courtesy.

Mehlman, whose organization favors stricter immigration enforcement, noted that it would be unthinkable for a law enforcement agency to refuse requests from another law enforcement agency in any other context.

“Police departments cooperate with each other when they get requests for help,” he said. “It should be a no-brainer.”

The number of illegal immigrants with so-called detainers from ICE is small, about four a month, on average. But the decision on Thursday to continue cooperating was not without controversy. The Daily Progress reported that the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) urged the jail board to stop notifying ICE.

The paper quoted the center’s Tanishka Cruz complaining that President Donald Trump reversed his predecessor’s policy of limiting deportations mostly to illegal immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes.

“Folks [are] being picked up on things as minor as driving without a license or failure to pay child support,” she said, according to the paper.

Steve Salvi, founder of the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC (OJJPAC), said Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently sent a new round of letters warning cities and counties with “sanctuary” policies they risked losing federal grants if they did not come into compliance with a federal law that prohibits state and local governments from preventing public employees from communicating with ICE.

“That might have encouraged Charlottesville to take that step,” Salvi said.

Related: ‘Make an Example’ of ‘Sanctuary’ Officials, Ex-ICE Agent Says

Salvi, who tracks cities and counties with sanctuary policies, said the number stood at 515 by his latest count. Despite Trump’s vow to crack down on sanctuary cities, Salvi said that number grew during the president’s first year in office, albeit at a slower rate.

The Justice Department, which warned another group of jurisdictions over the summer, so far has focused on large cities and counties. Salvi said the department should send some letters to smaller jurisdictions as well.

Failing to follow through on sanctions has undermined whatever deterrent the administration’s sanctuary city stance might have had, Salvi said.

“After no city actually got funds cut, they were encouraged to continue,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected].