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Jeff Sessions vows to “claw back” federal money from sanctuary cities

After months of tough talk about cracking down on jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with the feds on immigration enforcement, the Trump administration just took the first step toward punishing so-called “sanctuary cities.”

In a surprise appearance at the start of the White House press briefing Monday, Attorney General Sessions said he would take “all lawful steps to claw back” federal funding from sanctuary cities, an undefined term that typically refers to jurisdictions where local law enforcement refuses requests by immigration agents to hold non-serious offenders who face deportation.


Following Donald Trump’s election, more than 100 cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Austin, Texas — have affirmed their “sanctuary” status. Trump signed an executive order during his first week in office that called for increased cooperation between local, state, and federal authorities to target, arrest, and detain undocumented immigrants — and threatened to pull federal grant money from jurisdictions that refuse to comply.

Sessions doubled down on that approach Monday. “The American people want and deserve a lawful immigration system that keeps us safe and serves our national interest,” he said in a statement. “This expectation is reasonable, and our government has a duty to meet it.”

Sanctuary cities stand to lose more than $4.1 billion in grants awarded by Office of Justice Programs and Community Oriented Policing Services this year, according to Sessions. Law enforcement agencies rely heavily on federal grants to bankroll training, technology upgrades, and equipment purchases.

Trump has regularly trotted out the family members of American citizens murdered by undocumented immigrants and rehashed those tragedies to fit his hard-line immigration agenda. Analyses of crime data, however, consistently indicate that the correlation between undocumented immigrants and crime is overstated.

On Monday, Sessions cited a poll that determined 80 percent of Americans “believe that cities that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to immigration authorities.”

That attention-grabbing statistic — the product of a new and relatively unknown Harvard-Harris survey — was widely circulated earlier this year. Analysts at Politifact, however, found the language of the question misleading. It doesn’t specify “violent crimes,” meaning that anyone arrested for having a broken tail-light or speeding could fall into that category.

A different poll, by Quinnipiac, found that 53 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be deported only if they commit “serious crimes,” compared to 22 percent for “any crime.”