Denver mayor defies Justice Department in investigation of illegal immigrant policy
Author: Tom Ramstack - January 25, 2018 - Updated: February 16, 2018
WASHINGTON — Denver’s mayor is pledging to defy Justice Department investigators who Wednesday demanded information about whether the city and county are withholding information on illegal immigrants.
The Justice Department announced it was investigating 23 cities and states accused of restricting information about illegal immigrants who immigration officials want to identify and deport. The city and county of Denver are on the list.
Cities and states — like Denver — whose police restrict the information about illegal immigrants they offer to federal agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are sometimes called “sanctuary” cities. More than 300 local governments nationwide restrict some immigration status information.
A Justice Department memo says the sanctuary cities and states might be violating Section 1373 of a federal law that requires them to share information on illegal immigrants with the federal government.
The memo adds that they will be subject to a subpoena if they fail to provide the requested information.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock responded to the Justice Department letter by saying, “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.”
He added in his statement, “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.”
President Donald Trump invited more than 100 mayors to meet with him Wednesday at the White House to discuss infrastructure and other issues. Hancock declined the invitation.
“I refuse to meet with the president under these kinds of threats and fear-mongering,” he said. “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.”
A Justice Department memo said cities and states that refuse to cooperate with the investigation could lose federal grants commonly used to fund law enforcement programs.
The letter to the cities and states requests “[a]ll documents reflecting any orders, directives, instructions or guidance to your law enforcement employees … 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 …”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said 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.”
Immigration policy was a major issue that led to the three-day shutdown of the federal government beginning last week after Congress was unable to agree on a new budget.
The dispute prompted tough remarks from members of Colorado’s delegation to Congress. Some opposed but others supported the Justice Department investigation.
“The [Justice Department’s] most recent threat is a scare tactic that is unproductive at best,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, agreed with Denver’s mayor and criticisms of the Justice Department.
“It seems Denver and other similar cities are being politically targeted by the Trump administration,” he said. “Instead, we should be focusing on comprehensive immigration reform which builds economic opportunity in our communities, creates jobs, strengthens our borders and provides an earned pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans.”
However, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said sanctuary cities’ disregard for Trump administration immigration policies must stop.
“I commend the Department of Justice for clamping down on sanctuary cities, like Denver, who are in direct contradiction of federal law and the constitutional prerogative of the federal government to dictate immigration policy,” Lamborn said. “It is shameful that state and local governments allow the existence of sanctuary cities.”
Lamborn is a co-sponsor of a bill that would withhold some grant money from cities that restrict communications with government agencies on the citizenship or immigration status of certain persons.
“We must enforce consequences for those cities who wish to further rip to shreds our already broken immigration system,” Lamborn said.
Lamborn’s legislative proposal is similar to an executive order Trump signed days after taking office that sought to deny some federal funding to sanctuary cities. Enforcement of the order has been blocked by court challenges and state legislative efforts, particularly in California.