House Appropriations Boss Initiates Crackdown on Sanctuaries

By Jessica M. Vaughan on February 1, 2016

Today the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee in charge of funding the Department of Justice, John Culberson (R-Texas), put the Obama administration on notice that it must take steps to rein in sanctuary jurisdictions or risk problems getting approval for its own budget requests. In addition, Culberson announced that he will begin requiring local jurisdictions to follow federal law and stop obstructing communication with immigration agencies as a condition for receiving certain federal law enforcement funding.

In a sternly worded letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Culberson said that he has a responsibility to ensure that state and local law enforcement agencies are following federal law before they can get federal grants. He said that sanctuary policies restricting communication between local and federal officials are a clear violation of Section 1373 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Among the jurisdictions that have imposed such policies are San Francisco, Cook County, Ill., and New York City. In addition to prohibiting local officers from communicating with immigration authorities, these jurisdictions bar federal officers from coming into jails to interview or arrest deportable criminals.

State and local sanctuary policies obstruct immigration enforcement and cause the release of criminal aliens back to the streets of American communities. According to ICE records that the Center obtained in a FOIA request, in 2014 more than 9,000 criminal aliens that ICE was seeking to deport were instead released. More than 2,300 of these criminal aliens went on to commit additional crimes within just a few months.

The three law enforcement funding programs that could become off-limits to sanctuaries currently dispense more than $1 billion a year to state and local agencies.

Mr. Culberson contacted the Center shortly after the publication of this information in July, saying that he had long sought concrete information on the extent of this problem and that he was determined to use his authority to address it. The Center has compiled a list of over 300 cities, counties, and states that have laws, ordinances, regulations, resolutions, policies, or other practices that protect criminal aliens from deportation — either by refusing to or prohibiting agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, or otherwise impeding open communication and information exchanges between their employees or officers and federal immigration officers. These jurisdictions are noted on a map here.

Culberson's letter outlines several steps he expects the Justice Department to take:

  1. Work with sanctuary jurisdictions to change their policies, and if they do not, take legal action to compel their compliance with federal law;

  2. Beginning this year, amend the grant application forms for the Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants, and State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) reimbursement program to require agencies seeking these funds to swear that they do not have policies that violate Section 1373; and

  3. Deny funding to any non-compliant sanctuary jurisdictions.

In addition, he asks the attorney general to look at whether jurisdictions that release criminal aliens sought by ICE are in violation of 8 USC 1324, the federal felony statute that prohibits anyone from shielding illegal aliens from detection. After all, these jurisdictions have been notified in writing by the detainers (federal Form I-247) that the aliens' identities and status have been confirmed by biometric fingerprint matching, and that federal agents wish to take custody of the aliens, and/or to be notified of the date, time, and place of release — so the sanctuaries are knowingly releasing deportable aliens sought by ICE. He said that he will consider applying this section of the law next year to block funding to jurisdictions that release criminal aliens sought by ICE. This action could affect the hundreds of agencies that fail to comply with or accept ICE detainers, for example.

Culberson warned that if the administration stubbornly continues to tolerate sanctuaries, he will find it hard to look favorably on any spending requests from DOJ in the coming appropriations season: "I hope the attorney general will do the right thing here so that I am not compelled to object to relevant portions of the Department's spending plan and reprogramming requests. Any refusal by the Department to comply with these reasonable and timely requests will factor heavily in my consideration of their 2017 budget requests."

Even following public outcry over a series of cases of murders committed by criminal aliens after release by sanctuaries, including the killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, the Obama administration has resisted calls for action to discourage or punish the jurisdictions that obstruct immigration enforcement. Instead, it has pressed ahead in implementing the so-called Priority Enforcement Program, which explicitly allows sanctuary policies that violate federal law. It's clear that the administration is more interested in protecting criminal aliens than in protecting the public from their acts; now we'll see if the Department of Justice is willing to jeopardize its own funding to spare sanctuaries from being sanctioned, and if the sanctuaries are willing to sacrifice federal funding in order to protect criminal aliens.