San Bernardino, CA
Last Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used his authority to warn a handful of U.S. cities, including San Bernardino, of the intent to withhold federal funding because of their stance on immigration.
According to the Justice Department, the cities were singled out because of their alleged status as “sanctuary cities” and their purported refusal to help federal agents identify and jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally and hold them for federal authorities.
Many observers wonder how the Department of Justice (DOJ) got it all so wrong. Certainly, there are sanctuary cities in California, but the City of San Bernardino is not one of them. Neither is the other California city called out by the DOJ: Stockton. While Stockton passed a resolution that affirmed the city’s support of its immigrant community in the wake of President Trump’s election, it is not officially identified as a sanctuary city.
The DOJ did not provide an explanation for their selections, although each of the four cities involved have experienced a rise in violent crime. As Sessions noted in his letters to them, “Your jurisdiction has expressed interest in receiving assistance through the PSP program.” The Public Safety Partnership is a training and technical assistance program designed to enhance the capacity of local jurisdictions to address violent crime in their communities.
Sessions continued, “Based on our review, we have concluded that your jurisdiction has levels of violence that exceed the national average, that your jurisdiction is ready to receive the intensive assistance [the DOJ] is prepared to provide, and that your jurisdiction is taking steps to reduce its violent crime.”
Sessions went on to ask questions for which he already has the answers—at least regarding San Bernardino and Stockton. Some may consider his questions to these cities rhetorical and disingenuous, while others chalked it up to the growing lists of threats by the Trump administration on nearly everything related to immigration. Sessions is already keenly aware that in 2014, California passed an immigration law known as the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act, which set limits on who state and local authorities can detain for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It also established guidelines for the transition from local criminal custody to ICE custody.
The TRUST Act prevents local law enforcement from detaining non-citizens pursuant to an immigration “hold” or detainer beyond the time that they otherwise could be released from criminal custody, without judicial review. The Act however, does not apply to all non-citizens. When for example, a non-citizen has certain convictions, including past convictions, or is held to answer certain felony charges. And, provided it does not violate any law or local policy, local law enforcement is permitted but never required to detain a person pursuant to the 48-hour immigration hold.
Sessions appears ready to withhold assistance from San Bernardino, Stockton, and other cities grappling increased violence as a way to press what many consider their “racist” immigration policies.