Feds threats called ‘fear-monering’
In response to the top national law enforcement official vowing to hold back funds from cities that flout federal immigration law, the Massachusetts attorney general accused U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions of fear-mongering on Tuesday.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh made national news in January by offering up City Hall as a home for immigrants threatened by the policies of President Donald Trump whose America First agenda includes a crackdown on illegal immigration.
On Tuesday, Walsh said that Trump's budget blueprint - which would move federal money out of art and science funding to bulk up the military - is a greater threat to Boston than the potential loss of Department of Justice grant money.
"To me it seems like another diversion," Walsh said of Sessions' statement. He said, "It doesn't change anything the way we do business in Boston. We're going to continue to be an open inclusive city."
Some U.S. cities have adopted policies that feature refusal to detain known felons under federal detainer requests, Sessions said, citing a Department of Homeland Security report showing that in one week there were more than 200 instances of jurisdictions refusing to honor detainer requests concerning individuals charged or convicted of a serious crime.
Attorney General Maura Healey also told reporters Sessions appeared unfamiliar with how local and federal law enforcement currently share information and cooperate. To illustrate her point, Healey harkened to a remark she said Sessions made at the recent National Association of Attorneys General conference.
"One of the things that Jeff Sessions said to our group was that he feels out of touch with what's happening in our communities. And I think the policy - if you want to call it that - announced yesterday, is a great reflection of that," Healey told reporters. She said, "I don't think he actually understands the way it currently works and the systems we currently have in place."
Sessions on Monday warned that the U.S. Department of Justice would require communities to certify compliance with federal immigration law to be eligible for grants and the federal government would "claw-back" funding from places that willfully violate immigration law.
"The American people are justifiably angry," Sessions said at a press conference. "They know that when cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe. Failure to deport aliens who are convicted for criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk - especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators."
"What I think AG Sessions is about is scare tactics, fear-mongering, and he doesn't seem to have any interest in actually looking at what's happening on the ground in communities," Healey said. She said, "Unfortunately, though, we have a federal administration that seems to be hell-bent on denigrating immigrant communities."
According to the Department of Justice's text of the U.S. attorney general's remarks, Sessions spoke about Kate Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco by an unauthorized immigrant who had been deported five times and had seven felony convictions. The killer, Francisco Sanchez, had been released from custody by San Francisco even though Immigrations and Customs Enforcement had filed a detainer requesting that he be held for removal proceedings.
"Countless Americans would be alive today - and countless loved ones would not be grieving today - if the policies of these sanctuary jurisdictions were ended," Sessions said, according to the justice department. Sessions said the federal government would "claw-back" funding from jurisdictions that knowingly prohibit or restrict government entities from "sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual."
Gov. Charlie Baker, who disagreed with Trump's immigration orders and the recent GOP-sponsored health care bill, said the state would continue to work with federal law enforcement to deport serious criminals, and work to secure federal grants.
"We will always, and always will, fight for every dollar we can on behalf of Massachusetts. That said, we work at the state level, collaboratively with the federal government, to make sure that if there are bad actors here - people who have been convicted of serious crimes, who aren't from here - that we notify the feds and that the feds remove them, and we're going to continue to do that," Baker told reporters Tuesday. "And to the extent we can do that in conjunction with our colleagues in local government, we will."
The governor also said that the range of nationalities represented in Massachusetts is "incredibly important to us." He said, "Massachusetts is a global community. We're a welcoming community."
The focus of Sessions' remarks was on sanctuary cities and other sanctuary jurisdictions, who in general have taken some step to limit local officials from helping to enforce federal immigration law.
Healey said the term "sanctuary city" doesn't have any specific legal meaning.
"It's a political term," Healey said. She said, "It doesn't have a legal meaning, so I don't even know what the attorney general is talking about when he talks about this issue."
The mayor, attorney general and governor talked to reporters after speaking at a breakfast hosted by RIZE Massachusetts, a new organization hoping to raise $50 million to combat the opioid epidemic. Healey said she hoped the Department of Justice would support the state's efforts to tamp down opioid abuse rather than taking steps to "scare people with untruths and falsehoods."