DENVER – The Justice Department warned Denver Police Chief Robert White in a letter Wednesday that Denver might be violating federal rules with some of its so-called “sanctuary city” policies and threatened that the police department could stand to lose federal grant money.
At issue are Byrne justice assistance grants (JAG) issued in accordance with a section of federal law called Section 1373, which deals with communication and information exchanges between local, state and federal law enforcement and other officials.
In Colorado, the grants are used for law enforcement initiatives, training and equipment, among other things.
The two portions prohibit city or county employees from requesting or disseminating information about a person's immigration or citizenship status.
Hanson wrote in his letter to White that both portions of the city code “appear to restrict the requesting of information regarding citizenship or immigration status, in violation of section 1373.”
Hanson asks White to respond to the letter by Dec. 8 and determine whether the codes cited indeed violates section 1373 for the FY2016 grants, and for any FY2017 grants he might have received.
The letter also asks White to explain any “savings clauses” in the city’s code and to explain “the way these savings clauses are interpreted and applied, and whether these interpretations are communicated to Denver officers or employees.”
Despite the requests, the Justice Department said it had “not made a final determination regarding Denver’s compliance with section 1373.”
The mayor’s office shot back at the Justice Department letter Wednesday afternoon, calling it “constitutionally dubious” and saying the city’s ordinance is in compliance with 1373.
“The DOJ’s letter is a constitutionally dubious attempt by the Trump Administration to bully cities,” said Jenna Espinoza, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office. “Denver’s immigration ordinance complies with all federal laws, including 8 U.S.C. § 1373.”
“Denver intends to respond to the November 15, 2017 letter from the Department of Justice with our assurance that Denver’s ordinance complies with Section 1373,” Espinoza continued. “Denver will not be bullied into turning its back on its immigrants and we stand ready and willing to legally challenge any actions by the Trump administration that threatens the safety of our residents.”
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.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director said after an immigration sweep in September, which targeted Denver among other places, focused on so-called “sanctuary cities.”
A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year the Justice Department couldn’t withhold federal grant money from “sanctuary cities,” though the Justice Department appealed that ruling.
But on Wednesday, a district judge in Philadelphia said the Justice Department couldn't withhold a public safety grant from the city because the Justice Department had deemed it a "sanctuary city."
Denver was the only jurisdiction in Colorado that received one of the letters from the Justice Department on Wednesday. Others included Seattle; Washington, D.C.; much of California; Louisville, Kentucky; the states of Illinois, Oregon and Vermont; and the home county of Albuquerque, N.M.