MIAMI — Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed Wednesday to continue fighting cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities until local governments follow Miami-Dade County's example and reverse policies.
Sessions aimed much of his frustration at Chicago, which last week sued President Donald Trump's administration for denying federal grant money to cities that don't share information with immigration officials. Five other cities and the state of California have filed lawsuits regarding the order to end "sanctuary cities" policies.
"This state of lawlessness allows gangs to smuggle guns, drugs, and even humans, across borders and around cities and communities. Sanctuary jurisdictions provide safe harbor for some of the most dangerous criminals in our country," Sessions said at an event in the Port of Miami.
Sessions applauded Miami-Dade's decision to comply with Trump's immigration orders by ordering county officials earlier this year to hold people in jail for extra time if immigration authorities requested them. County mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed a 2013 policy that refused such requests unless the federal government committed to pay for jail costs. In justifying the decision, the Republican mayor said he didn't want to risk losing federal funding.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement that Trump's administration is "wrong morally, wrong factually and wrong legally" as it threatens to end funding for the "sanctuary cities."
Sessions contrasted Miami-Dade and Chicago's crime statistics and accused the Midwestern city of failing to solve many of its slayings.
"Respect for the rule of law has broken down. In Chicago, their so-called 'sanctuary' policies are one sad example," he said.
While Sessions called Miami-Dade a "good" example of a city in compliance, when compared to 2016 numbers, the county's police department has reported a 3 percent increase in violent crime, including 17 percent more homicides between January and early August.
Chicago's Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement that the number of shootings have dropped this year in his city.
"Undocumented immigrants are not driving violence in Chicago, and that's why I want our officers focused on community policing and not trying to be the immigration police."
The U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a statement Wednesday condemning Sessions' remarks about Chicago.
"It’s clear from his statement today that Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t understand what it means to run a city that welcomes immigrants. He doesn’t understand the Constitutional protections afforded to all people in our country and their impact on local policies. He doesn’t understand the nature or the causes of crime and violence in our cities.
"The Conference of Mayors unequivocally supports Chicago's lawsuit challenging the restrictions the Justice Department is placing on Byrne JAG funding. We will be joining an amicus brief in support of that suit and will be inviting mayors across the nation to do so as well.
"The U.S. Conference of Mayors stands with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and deplores the attacks which the Attorney General leveled against him today and on previous days. An assault on one mayor is an assault on all mayors.”
Miami-Dade's Gimenez has also said that his police force will not do the job of immigration agents. The mayor and the county are also facing a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and local attorneys who argue that holding suspects beyond the closing of a criminal case violates the Constitution.
County spokesman Michael Hernandez said earlier on Wednesday that the mayor was going to take the opportunity of meeting Sessions to tell him he supports delaying the deportation of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children. The program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is in jeopardy as a group of attorneys general has called on Trump's administration to phase it out.
A national coalition of more than 150 mayors and county executives called Cities for Action on Tuesday sent a letter to Trump urging him to continue the DACA program until a legislative solution is found. The group, which includes Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Emanuel, wants Trump to engage with Congress to enact the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill that would provide a path to citizenship for people who are undocumented, have DACA or temporary protected status, and graduate from U.S. high schools and attend college, enter the workforce, or enlist in a military program.
“DACA represents a critical step in the road to comprehensive immigration reform. A step away from DACA would be a step in the wrong direction," Freeman-Wilson said.
Gary recently adopted a "welcoming city" ordinance designed to provide some protection for non-citizen residents living in Gary. Among its provisions, the ordinance prohibits requesting or investigating the legal status of an individual unless required by a court order. It also says immigration enforcement actions are a federal responsibility and city resources shall not be commandeered to enforce federal immigration law.
Despite Sessions' praise of Miami-Dade County, earlier in the day the mayor joined other Republican politicians in rejecting Trump's Tuesday declaration that both white supremacists and those protesting them were to blame for deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sessions did not directly address Trump's remarks, but said that what happened in the demonstration was unacceptable.
"In no way we can accept or apologize for racism, bigotry, and violence and those kinds of things that too often arise in our country," he said.