Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

NY fights ‘sanctuary cities’ crackdown

March 31, 2017

As published by Democrat & Chronicle on March 27, 2017

ALBANY – New York will continue to fight efforts by the federal government to revoke federal aid from cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration enforcement laws, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday.

The reaction came after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice will claw back portions of $4 billion in aid to states and municipalities who flout the federal laws.

“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 re-think these policies,” Sessions told reporters Monday at the White House.

“Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars.”

New York City, Rochester, Ithaca and Syracuse are among the places that have declared themselves as “sanctuary cities,” saying they will not help federal immigration officials deport people in many cases.

“As written in our ‘Sanctuary City’ resolution, the City of Rochester fully intends to follow all federal laws, so we don’t believe funding is at risk,” Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement.

“However, we find it deeply disturbing that certain federal officials continue to fear-monger by making unsubstantiated claims about those who come to our country seeking a better life and better opportunities. In Rochester, our diversity is our greatest strength, and immigrants do and always have contributed much to our economy and the very fabric of our city.”

State opposition

Schneiderman has been forceful in saying his office will defend the state against actions by the federal government, saying cities have a right to follow their own policies and shouldn’t be at risk of losing federal aid.

“Despite what Attorney General Sessions implied this afternoon, state and local governments and law enforcement have broad authority under the Constitution to not participate in federal immigration enforcement,” Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“As my office’s legal guidance makes clear, President Trump lacks the constitutional authority to broadly cut off funding to states and cities just because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families.”

New York has nearly 4.4 million immigrants, second only to California.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Schneiderman vowed to protect the rights of its immigrant population, particularly after President Trump issued an order in January condemning “sanctuary cities.”

“Public safety depends on trust between law enforcement and those they bravely serve; yet, again and again, President Trump’s draconian policies only serve to undercut that trust,” Schneiderman continued.

Potential aid cuts

Rochester will receive at least $5.6 million in federal funding this fiscal year, while New York City gets more than $7 billion a year in federal aid.

How much of that would be at risk is uncertain, but state officials have questioned whether money used for law enforcement could be cut.

Also, Schneiderman has argued that federal money for other services such as infrastructure funds, could not be withheld.

Sessions said the stance is consistent with guidance issued last July under the Obama administration, which requires state and local jurisdictions to comply with federal immigration enforcement laws in order to receive grants through the Office of Justice Programs.

Asked by reporters about those communities that will continue to not comply, he called it “very disheartening.”

“But I hope the American people and their constituents in their own cities will communicate with them,” Sessions said.

“And as we continue a dialogue and a discussion, and we continue to ensure that monies that go to law enforcement only go to cities who are participating in an effective, collegial, cooperative way with the federal government, that that would also send a message.”

Greater oversight

 The federal government has stepped up its oversight of municipalities’ compliance with the guidance.

Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started to publish weekly reports on which localities refused to cooperate with detainment orders for undocumented immigrants.

It ranked the top municipalities that received detainer requests: First was Clark County, Nev., and second was Nassau County on Long Island, with 38 requests.

The report also noted one case in Westchester County on Feb. 1.

The report listed several New York municipalities and counties that have enacted policies to limit cooperation with the federal government on immigration policy, including Ithaca, Franklin and St. Lawrence counties in northern New York and Wayne County outside Rochester.

Immigrant-rights groups knocked the pressure from the Trump administration.

“Immigrant communities are here to stay and will resist every step of the way. And we’re confident that New York City and other pro-immigrant cities and states will hold the line against this policy of hate,” Javier Valdés, co-executive Director of Make the Road New York, said in a statement.