August 3, 2017

DOJ threatens to withhold crime-fighting resources over ABQ immigration policies

Gage Skidmore

Then-U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Flickr cc

The Department of Justice says for the city of Albuquerque to qualify for a partnership to combat violent crime, the city will have to comply with efforts federal immigration enforcement for immigrants who are detained.

To qualify for the cooperation and funding, the DOJ says Albuquerque, and three other cities, must answer questions on how the city cooperates with federal authorities on immigration

“By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “We saw that just last week, when an illegal alien who had been deported twenty times and was wanted by immigration authorities allegedly sexually assaulted an elderly woman in Portland, a city that refuses to cooperate with immigration enforcement.”

The term “sanctuary-city” does not have a specific definition, but the term is usually used to refer to municipalities that don’t fully cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on enforcing federal immigration laws.

The federal program in question is the Public Safety Partnership, announced in June by the DOJ.

The City of Albuquerque currently does not use city resources to help federal authorities apprehend or identify undocumented immigrants unless otherwise required by law.

The letter from Alan Hanson, the Acting Assistant Attorney General, to Albuquerque Police Department Chief Gorden Eden says Albuquerque qualifies for the program because of crime levels that are above the national average and that the city is ready to receive “the intensive training and technical assistance offered by the Department.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said that Mayor Richard Berry ended the city’s sanctuary status in 2010.

The city also provided a letter from Berry to Sessions in which the mayor said Albuquerque “is not a city, that in your words ‘protects criminals from immigration enforcement’ and therefore, we are not in your words a ‘sanctuary’ city.”

The letter also referred to a 2010 agreement which allows ICE to have space in the city’s Prisoner Transport Center.

Berry wrote that Eden sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 27, 2017 that said he believed there are no federal officers assigned to the effort.

“As you can see, the City of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) have worked closely with our Federal partners to implement a program that provides access to individuals arrested for criminal offenses while allowing our local law enforcement to concentrate on community policing efforts,” Berry wrote.

Both the mayor’s office and the Albuquerque Police Department pointed toward Bernalillo County, saying the county controls the information sought by the DOJ.

The county said there is an internal policy related to the issue.

The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 on March 14 to declare Bernalillo County an immigrant-friendly county that welcomes and encourages immigrants to live, work and study in the county and participate in community affairs,” the release stated. “The resolution directed that no municipal resources be used, including that of the Sheriff’s Department, to identify someone’s immigration status or arrest them on the sole basis of status, unless otherwise required by law to do so.”

Earlier this year, the city council approved a memorial that reaffirmed the city’s “immigrant-friendly” status.

However, the DOJ says it will not provide the crime-fighting assistance unless the cities answer whether they have any policies ensuring that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has access to those believed to be in the country illegally while in custody, allowing detention facilities to give the DHS 48 hours’ notice before releasing those in the country illegally or will hold a foreign national in custody for an additional 48 hours at DHS’ request so that foreign national can be taken into DHS custody.

The DOJ already selected 12 cities to participate in the program earlier this year. Thursday, the AG announced the letters to Albuquerque and three other cities: Baltimore, Maryland; San Bernadino, California and Stockton, California.

Studies have shown that cities that do not cooperate fully with the federal government when it comes to aiding federal authorities in immigration enforcement are safer than other similar cities.

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who is running for governor, slammed the DOJ letter.

“This political directive from the Department of Justice threatens to make cities like Albuquerque less safe by forcing local police officers to do the work of federal immigration agents,” she  said. “Albuquerque’s police force is chronically understaffed, and officers are already working overtime to combat violent crime in our community.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has in the past opposed similar efforts by the DOJ on immigrants who are in the country illegally.

Peter Simonson, the group’s executive director, called it “a bullying tactic from an attorney general who is so determined to make misery in the lives of immigrant families that he’s willing to withhold federal crime fighting dollars from a city that sorely needs it.”

“Jeff Sessions doesn’t know what’s best for our City. The people of Albuquerque know what’s best for our City, and we have already decided how our police should do their jobs,” Simonson said in the statement. “This attorney general’s actions are petty, coercive, and dangerous for our community. We urge our City leaders to reject this assault on our autonomy.”

Update: Added information from the City of Albuquerque, including a letter from Mayor Richard Berry.

Update: Added information from Bernalillo County.

Letter from DOJ to cities on Public Safety Partnerships by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd