DENVER – The Justice Department upped its pressure on Denver and 22 other jurisdictions it considers “sanctuary cities” Wednesday, threatening subpoenas if the city doesn’t send over a host of documents proving they’re cooperating with federal immigration officials.
The letter comes on the heels of another one sent in November in which the Justice Department requested more information about the city and county’s immigration compliance, threatening to withhold Byrne justice assistance grants which help fund state law enforcement initiatives, training and equipment, among other things.
A Denver mayor’s spokeswoman called the November letter a “constitutionally dubious attempt by the Trump Administration to bully cities” at the time, but the city responded to the November letter with what it said was assurances the city’s ordinance was in compliance with the federal code.
Earlier this year, the city and county of Denver approved the Denver Public Safety Enforcement Priorities Act, which among other things, ordered the Denver Sheriff Department, which is in charge of the city’s jails, not to seek federal funding that required the department to gather and release information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status.
It additionally reinforced the notification rules for the Denver Sheriff Department to notify ICE of pending releases “to the extent they are able.”
The ordinances also codified language continuing a U-Visa program and protecting sensitive locations for immigrants regardless of their status.
Wednesday’s letter to the city says the Justice Department “remains concerned” that Denver’s policies might still violate, or be inconsistent with, a section of federal code (8 U.S.C. § 1373) that relates to communication and information exchanges between local, state and federal law enforcement.
The Justice Department says the jurisdictions must be in compliance with the code in order to receive the Byrd grants for FY2016 and FY2017.
Wednesday’s letter asks the city to send a host of documents, and if the documents aren’t sent, says they will be subpoenaed.
The request from the Justice Department reads as follows:
“All documents reflecting any orders, directives, instructions, or guidance to your law enforcement employees (including, but not limited to, police officers, correctional officers, and contract employees), whether formal or informal, that were distributed, produced, and/or in effect during the relevant timeframe, regarding whether and how these employees may, or may not, communicate with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or their agents, whether directly or indirectly.”
The Justice Department said that it may still determine Denver is out of compliance with the federal code, and could seek to have the grant money returned, require additional conditions for Denver to receive the grants, or find Denver ineligible for the money altogether.
“I continue to urge all jurisdictions under review to reconsider policies that place the safety of their communities and their residents at risk,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement. “Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law. We have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement—enough is enough.”
Mayor Michael Hancock retorted to the letter in a statement, saying that Denver is in line with federal law and that he'd also declined an invitation to the White House.
“This is a destructive ploy by the Trump Administration’s lawyers to politicize a routine exchange of information. We will repeat what we have said time and again, Denver does not violate section 1373 and complies with all federal laws. These threats are blatant attempts to distract the American people from the real news, namely that the Mueller investigation is turning up the heat on a dysfunctional presidency.
“Denver won’t back down. We are joined by dozens of other communities, resolute in opposing chaotic and poorly reasoned overreach by Attorney General Sessions and we will not stand down from doing what is right. There are hundreds of Mayors in DC who have been invited by Trump to the White House today. I refuse to meet with the President under these kinds of threats and fearmongering.
“As a reminder to our community, every step we take and the role of our law enforcement is to maintain the highest level of safety for all our people including our immigrants.”