Sen. Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate judiciary Committee on his nomination to be attorney general. Senate Judiciary Committee video feed / File Photo
President Trump signs an executive order on immigration at the Department of Homeland Security. C-SPAN / File Photo

Washington — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday threatened to strip Justice Department law enforcement grants from states and cities that do not cooperate completely with federal immigration authorities, which could put millions of dollars received by Connecticut and several of its cities at risk.

The state, and cities including Hartford and New Haven, do not comply with all federal “detainers” – requests to keep jailed immigrants detained for 48 hours after their scheduled release so federal immigration officials can pick them up for deportation. Connecticut law enforcement also has been told by Gov. Dannel Malloy they don’t have to ask those apprehended or detained about their immigration status.

Sessions said these “sanctuaries” for immigrants could also see a “clawback’” of  policing money that already has been distributed by the Justice Department. The Office of Justice Programs gives out more than $4 billion in grants every year, including tens of millions of dollars to the state of Connecticut and its cities and towns.

“I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies,” Sessions said at a White House press conference. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars.”

Malloy has denied that Connecticut is a “sanctuary” state, saying it complies with a section of the U.S. Code known as section 1373 that bars any local or state “law, policy or procedure” that “prohibits” law enforcement officials from gathering or maintaining information on immigration status or sharing it with the federal immigration service.

On Monday Malloy spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said, “The fact is that Connecticut is compliant with the federal law referenced by U.S. Attorney General Sessions.”

But in signing his immigration executive order in January, President Donald Trump said federal policing money could be withheld from any jurisdiction that violated section 1373 “or which has in effect a statute, policy, or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of federal law.”

Connecticut in 2013 passed the “Trust Act” that allows state and local law enforcement agencies to ignore a federal detainer for an immigrant if he or she hasn’t committed a serious felony. The Malloy administration says Connecticut does hold immigrants for whom there is an arrest warrant.

“We maintain that we are compliant,” Donnelly said.

Trump’s executive order also tasked the Department of Homeland Security with compiling a weekly list of jurisdictions that “ignored or otherwise failed to honor” any detainer, and directed the Office of Management and Budget to gather information on federal grant money “that currently is received by any sanctuary jurisdiction.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions at his confirmation hearing  before the Senate judiciary Committee Senate Judiciary Committee video feed / File Photo
Sen. Jeff Sessions at his confirmation hearing  before the Senate judiciary Committee Senate Judiciary Committee video feed / File Photo

The DHS released its first “Declined Detainer Outcome Report” last week, covering the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. It listed 206 cases of immigrants released from custody despite federal agents’ requests to keep them locked up so the federal government could take them into custody. None of those cases were from Connecticut.

But the DHS report also contained a section called “Table of Jurisdictions That Have Enacted Policies Which Limit Cooperation with ICE,” or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that listed Hartford and East Haven among dozens of other cities, large and small, including Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago and Newark, N.J.

It said East Haven “will not honor ICE detainers” and Hartford “will not arrest or detain a person based solely on their immigration status unless there’s a criminal warrant.”

At Monday’s press conference, Sessions warned Maryland not to give final approval to legislation that is very similar to Connecticut’s Trust Act, and also is called the Trust Act.

Maryland’s bill would prohibit holding immigrants on detainers unless a judge signs a warrant.

The bill also would make clear that other local and state officials, including police officers and sheriff’s deputies, cannot ask people about their immigration or citizenship status.

“Maryland is talking about a state law to make the state a sanctuary state,” Sessions said. “I would plead with the people of Maryland to understand that this makes the State of Maryland more at risk for violence and crime — that it’s not good policy.”

But immigration advocates say cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities destroys the trust of immigrant communities in the police and makes policing more difficult because undocumented witnesses and victims may be afraid to come forward.

Some of the mayors of what Trump calls “sanctuary cities” issued defiant statements Monday.

“President Trump’s latest threat changes nothing,” said New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio. “We will remain a city welcoming of immigrants who have helped make our city the safest big city in the nation. Any attempt to cut NYPD funding for the nation’s top terror target will be aggressively fought in court.”

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said “the threat of cutting federal funding from cities across the country that aim to foster trusting relationships between their law enforcement and the immigrant community is irresponsible and destructive.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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