Democratic mayors, frustrated with President Donald Trump’s threat to cut funding to cities and counties that do not enforce immigration policy, urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday to craft a unified federal policy that might eliminate what they see as mixed messages from various agencies.
“It’s very difficult to send men and women onto the streets to enforce laws that must be square with the Fourth Amendment and getting mixed messages from various federal agencies,” said Stephen Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina.
Benjamin, who serves as an official with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said local officials did not even understand how the federal government was defining a “sanctuary city.”
“The federal government needs to get its act together and give direction to local law enforcement agencies. And I know that with that direction, every one of us will follow the federal law, as we do now,” he said.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors met with Sessions just days after the Justice Department warned nine jurisdictions, accused of acting as “sanctuary” cities, that they could see their federal funding cut if they did not comply with U.S. immigration law.
Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, which was one of the jurisdictions Sessions targeted in letters last Friday, attended the hourlong meeting, as did Jorge Elorza, mayor of Providence, Rhode Island; Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana; Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas; Tom Cochran, executive director of the mayors group; and Tom Manger, police chief of Montgomery County, Maryland.
The mayors characterized the meeting as frank and productive, and said Sessions, too, had vented frustration with the state of homeland security.
The mayors said they had advocated for stronger cooperation among the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Sessions told the attendants he and his staff would follow up on several issues raised by the mayors.
Landrieu said Tuesday’s meeting would not have been necessary had Congress and the White House provided clear solutions on immigration and homeland security.
“None of this discussion would be necessary if Congress and the president would enact comprehensive immigration reform, which is long overdue,” Landrieu said. “In the meantime, the mayors of America will do what is necessary to keep our streets safe, and consistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the United States of America.”
After the meeting, Benjamin argued that taxpayer money should not be held up by the federal government.
“We speak in terms of federal grants and federal funding as if this is manna from heaven that came out of nowhere,” Benjamin told McClatchy. “These are monies that our taxpayers send to Washington, D.C., every single year. . . . There ought not be any reason for those funds to be withheld from keeping our cities safe and secure.”