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Trump Administration Ratchets Up Pressure On Sanctuary Cities


The Trump administration is pressuring so-called sanctuary cities. NPR's John Burnett reports.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Under President Trump, the government wants every jail in America to help immigration agents deport every unauthorized immigrant held for any crime from murder to marijuana possession. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 118 local jurisdictions are pushing back. They routinely decline so-called ICE detainers. These are requests from federal agents to jail authorities to hold a non-citizen until agents can pick them up.

According to Monday's report during the week of January 28, the stubborn local jails released 206 unauthorized immigrants, most of them were from Mexico and Central America. Most bonded out or served their time. Some quick math shows that 56 percent of them were charged, but not convicted. The crimes are all over the map, one homicide and lots of assaults, drug charges and DUIs. Travis County, Texas, which encompasses Austin had by far the most denials of ICE detainers. As it happens, a new sheriff took office that week, and she rejected a backlog of ICE requests. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says they will not bow to pressure from ICE to change their policy.

SARAH ECKHARDT: I am disappointed that ICE continues to conflate their mission which is the enforcement of federal immigration law with our mission which is the enforcement of state criminal laws. And we do it well. That's why we have such a low crime rate.

BURNETT: This was only the first report. ICE plans to publish this rogue's gallery of sanctuary cities and the immigrants they release once a week. ICE-acting director Thomas Homan says in a statement these jail releases endanger Americans and undermine ICE's ability to protect public safety.

Christopher Lasch is a law professor at the University of Denver who follows sanctuary cities. He says it's important to keep in mind that researchers have shown the foreign born commit fewer crimes than the native born.

CHRISTOPHER LASCH: We can't forget that this is a huge propaganda effort by this administration.

BURNETT: Trump has threatened to cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities. Late Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions joined the administration's chorus. He said the Justice Department will use all of its authority to hold accountable jurisdictions that willfully violate federal law. John Burnett, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.