Trump Administration Proposes Tougher Line on 'Sanctuary Cities' Over Detainer Requests

By Laura Meckler Features Dow Jones Newswires

The Trump administration may go toe to toe with "sanctuary cities" after all.

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Buried in the White House budget proposal released Tuesday is a change in federal rules aimed at pressuring cities to further cooperate with federal immigration officials in deporting undocumented immigrants. Under the proposal, jurisdictions that don't hold people in jails at the request of the federal government, known as detainer requests, would risk losing millions of dollars in grant money.

The language is a reversal from the message Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent just a day earlier, which the Justice Department relied on in asking a federal court to reconsider a ruling on the administration's policy. Mr. Sessions wrote in a memo that he was narrowly defining the term "sanctuary jurisdiction." He said the department would simply insist that local jurisdictions comply with a section of law known as section 1373, which bars local governments from blocking communication with federal officials over immigration, but says nothing about detainers.

"The term 'sanctuary jurisdiction' will refer only to jurisdictions that 'willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373,' " Mr. Sessions wrote. The Justice Department then asked the federal district judge who ruled against the administration's policy to reconsider his ruling in light of the new guidance.

Then, on Tuesday, the administration proposed changing section 1373 to require more than open communication. The language in the budget document, if adopted by Congress, would require that jurisdictions be required to hold suspected illegal immigrants in jails for up to 48 hours to give the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency time to get them for possible deportation. If they don't comply, the budget language says, state and local governments could lose grant money from the Homeland Security and Justice departments.

Cities and counties that don't comply with detainers cite court rulings that bar holding people beyond their release dates, and say immigrants won't cooperate with local law enforcement on other matters if they are seen as extensions of immigration enforcement.

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A Justice Department official said that the Sessions memo from Monday reflects the current law, which as now written doesn't relate to detainer requests. "That does not mean, however, that the Department of Justice would not like to see the law changed or cannot suggest such changes via legislation," he said.

President Donald Trump campaigned last year on a promise to crack down on uncooperative jurisdictions, and many have been expecting a fight over the matter in Congress.

The language was spotted by immigration advocates at the liberal Center for American Progress and then further publicized by the advocacy group America's Voice.

"The sneaky Sessions ploy has been brought from the back pages of the budget document into the sunlight, where it is likely to be shrivel up and die," America's Voice said in a statement.

Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 23, 2017 18:27 ET (22:27 GMT)