United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited a Denver case to support the Trump administration’s crackdown on sanctuary cities.
During his first week in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order instructing his Cabinet to devise ways to defund sanctuary cities. On Monday March 27, Attorney General Sessions announced the new policy during the White House press briefing.
A “sanctuary city” is a municipality that refuses to cooperate with Federal immigration investigations. When police in these cities arrest suspects who are in the country illegally, they typically refuse to hand the individuals over to Federal immigration agents.
Proponents of the policy argue that this allows law enforcement to foster better relationships with the Hispanic community. They believe that community members are more willing to cooperate with law enforcement when the threat of deportation is not looming over them.
Alternatively, opponents of sanctuary cities point to cases where local law enforcement refused to hand violent criminals over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and within weeks, the suspect was back behind bars for committing another violent crime.
The Trump administration’s plan is to withhold Federal law enforcement grant money from states and cities that refuse to cooperate with Federal immigration investigations. In justifying the policy change, Attorney General Sessions pointed to a recent high profile Denver case.
In December of 2016, Ever Valles was arrested for vehicular theft and illegal possession of a firearm. ICE agents immediately recognized Valles as an illegal alien and suspected gang member. They asked the Sheriff to notify them before the suspect was released so they could take him into custody and begin the deportation process.
Five days before Christmas, the Denver Sheriff’s Department sent the ICE Field Office a fax at 11:33 pm notifying them of Valles’ impending release. Less than 26 minutes later, Ever Valles walked out of jail a free man.
The ICE Field Office in Centennial, CO didn't receive the fax until close to an hour after Valles was released. They were unable to get to the Downtown Denver jail in time to take custody of the suspect.
Valles was arrested weeks later in connection to the Sheridan RTD station murder. He has been formally charged with murdering Tim Cruz.
“The American people are not happy with these results,” Sessions said after detailing the Valles case in his statement. “They know that when cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe.”
Denver, Aurora, and Boulder all have policies in place that prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with ICE investigations. In 2015, the three cities received almost $200 million in Federal funding. Not only would the new executive action prevent future law enforcement grant disbursements, but the Justice Department announced it will also try to claw back the money that has already been distributed.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is standing up against the Trump administration. “If being a sanctuary city means that we value taking care of one another and welcoming refugees and immigrants,” Hancock said in a public announcement, “then I welcome the title.”
The Trump administration’s new policy will likely be challenged in court, with cities like Denver, Aurora, and Boulder arguing that the 10th
Amendment prohibits the Federal government from compelling cities and states to enforce Federal law. The Trump administration’s position is that if sanctuary cities are unwilling to help the Federal government enforce the country’s laws, then they do not deserve funding of law enforcement grants.
One thing that is clear is that the fight between these Colorado cities and the Trump administration is only just beginning.