Whatever you might have heard, nothing much has changed on the sanctuary-city front except that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted to make sure that Denver is taking the exercise personally.
In threatening once again to withhold federal grant money from so-called sanctuary cities, he name-checked Denver for a case in which city officials say the attorney general got his, uh, facts wrong (although ICE officials dispute that contention). In any case, you might have spotted a trend there. But there’s another trend worth noting.
For all the talk on sanctuary cites, despite the executive order on sanctuary cities, even with Sessions’ latest now-I-mean-it pronouncement on sanctuary cities, the Trump administration hasn’t actually done anything on sanctuary cities.
Just as it hasn’t accomplished anything on repealing Obamacare. Or on building a wall. Or on making Mexico pay for the wall. Or on getting several iterations of a travel ban targeting citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries past a judge. Or on, well, much of anything.
The list of non-accomplishments is long and growing longer, unless you count executive orders to harm the environment as accomplishments. As political guru David Gergen says, Trump is well on his way to putting together the worst first 100 days in modern presidential history. And though it’s early, you might want to start lining up your bets for the second 100.
In fact, the most likely reason that Sessions made his quick appearance during Monday’s White House press briefing session was to provide cover. By changing the subject, he gave beleaguered Sean Spicer something to talk about other than trying to defend Trump’s decision to walk away from reforming Obamacare — the law that Trump calls a disaster and predicts will either implode or explode or, in a first, both — after 17 grueling days of trying.
In a revealing Vox explainer, we learn that if you look closely at what Sessions said, it was to back away from a probably unenforceable executive order on sanctuary cities by changing the definition. A sanctuary city — a term Tom Tancredo helped make famous — is generally considered one that won’t help to enforce federal immigration law. But in this latest effort, as Vox explains, Sessions would deny grants only to those cities and states that actually violate the law by refusing to give any information to ICE officials.
Denver is not one of those cities. Denver officials, who have been very careful not to officially proclaim Denver a sanctuary city for clearly legal reasons, were pretty confident the original order didn’t apply to them. And they’re just as certain that this interpretation doesn’t either.
Maybe it would work in dealing with hard-line cities like San Francisco or New York, but New York officials make the case that it seems unlikely the federal government would deny policing funds to the city that is ground zero for terrorism. And San Francisco, meanwhile, is leading an effort to challenge the executive order in court. Denver has joined the effort.
The stakes are large. In Denver’s case, it could be tens of millions of dollars in federal grants that aid in city law enforcement. In other words, in our continuing discussion of the theory that, in TrumpWorld, up really is down, Sessions says that he’s targeting sanctuary policies because they make cities less safe. And then says he would deny the very funds that actually help make those cities safer.
Forget the studies that show that so-called sanctuary cities aren’t any less safe than any other cities, because this is not about facts. This is about the Trump campaign and its claim that “bad hombres” from Mexico are on a rampage of rape and murder in America. And while the Trump administration has been slow on sanctuary cities, it has clearly shown it is willing to make life tougher for the most vulnerable among us, pushing immigrants without documents further into the shadows. And in its border policy, it is threatening to separate children from parents caught crossing the border.
But how did Sessions come to name-check Denver?
It’s the case of Ever Valles, whom Sessions described as “an illegal immigrant and a Mexican national … charged with murder and robbery of a man at a light rail station.” He was released from a Denver jail, Sessions said, “despite the fact that ICE has lodged a detainer for his removal.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Hancock’s spokeswoman Amber Miller said that Session had it all wrong, that ICE, which was aware that Valles was in the city jail for two months, could have issued a warrant for Valles at any time, but didn’t. And she said ICE didn’t issue a “detainer,” but asked instead for a notification of release.
The city says it provided the notification. ICE says it got the notice an hour after Valles was released.
But the story here is less in the disputed details than it is in the politics. Polls have shown that a majority of people oppose defunding sanctuary cities, but, of course, the offending cities are mostly heavily Democratic. And yet, denying these funds would mean Trump would have to go after cities in states that he just recently won from Democrats. And, if he tries to apply it to Colorado, it would mean going after Denver and Aurora and Boulder and other cities in our swing state as we head inexorably toward the 2018 midterms.
Is this a battle — withholding funding for police departments — that the Trump administration really wants to fight? Or, and this is my guess, is it a battle it just wants to talk about fighting?
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh via flickr: Creative Commons