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US Police Chiefs Voice Concern Over Sanctuary City Policy

  • Aline Barros

Protesters hold signs as they listen to speakers at a rally outside City Hall in San Francisco, Jan. 25, 2017.

Police chiefs from different parts of the United States on Thursday voiced their concerns about President Donald Trump's executive order to "strip" federal grant money from sanctuary states and cities that harbor undocumented immigrants.

Law enforcement authorities said that cutting funding to "force" local policies to change was "troubling" and that the notion that police do not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was wrong.

"We are concerned about this threat of losing funds," said J. Thomas Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Manger is the police chief of Montgomery County, Maryland, a populous area adjacent to Washington, D.C., and said a one-size-fits-all approach to immigration policy wouldn't work with the 18,000 police departments in the country.

"And it's an unfunded mandate, quite frankly. Immigration law is best enforced by federal government, and we are happy to help and cooperate" with ICE in whatever manner needed, said Mike Tupper, police chief in Marshalltown, Iowa.

But Tupper said his department did not have the financial resources or personnel to take on these additional tasks.

Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger testifies before a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, March 4, 2009.
Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger testifies before a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, March 4, 2009.

Cutting police funds?

Sanctuary cities limit help to federal authorities who may be looking to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants. Thirty-nine U.S. cities and 364 counties nationwide have established themselves as sanctuary places; others prefer the term welcoming cities.

Proponents of tougher immigration laws, however, object to sanctuary cities. They say the sharing of information helps officials catch criminals.

"We confer this special privilege on, in many cases, dangerous, violent criminals because they came here illegally," Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said.

Uses of federal aid

Federal grants to cities and communities come from general revenue and are used to pay for various services, such as community centers, health clinics and housing for low-income people.

The cities individually could lose millions of dollars in this federal aid. Many of the cities, including some of the biggest in the country, are located in states that Trump won in the November election.

For police departments, that could mean funds cut from programs that support interstate background checks for those who plan to purchase guns, training in active shooting situations, and programs to combat drug trafficking and abuse.

"We are not trying to protect criminals. We are not trying to keep violent offenders that shouldn't be here in the community. We want those people to be held accountable. ... But it's their [ICE] responsibility" to find and arrest undocumented immigrants, Tupper said.

Both police officials said they had worked with ICE in following the Priority Enforcement Program, which requires that departments submit the fingerprints of an undocumented immigrant who has committed an aggravated felony to the FBI for criminal history and warrant checks.

The same biometric data is then sent ICE to determine whether the individual is a priority for removal, consistent with enforcement priorities.

Tupper said the Marshalltown Police Department serves a smaller population — about 30,000 people, with 30 percent to 45 percent of its residents identifying themselves as immigrants.

"I think sometimes people assume that because we have a large immigrant population that everybody here is undocumented. That's not the case," he said.

"But even the folks that are here with documentation, lawfully, [said] they are very concerned with the direction we are heading and also fear they're going to be caught up in enforcement efforts," Tupper said.

Frederick County, Md., Sheriff Chuck Jenkins testifies before a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, March 4, 2009.
Frederick County, Md., Sheriff Chuck Jenkins testifies before a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington, March 4, 2009.

Working with ICE

In contrast, the sheriff of Frederick County, in northern Maryland, supports an immigration enforcement policy that allows local police to work in association with ICE.

Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said the announced executive order by Trump was "the right way to go."

For the past eight years, the county has followed the 287(g) program, one of ICE's partnership programs, that trains and authorizes designated police officers to act as immigration officials.

In Frederick County, they do so only in detention centers and not on the streets, Jenkins said, "and I believe it's been very effective for Frederick County."

He said Frederick County police work strictly with ICE priorities, and that "won't change."

"I can tell you this: We have never had a complaint of profiling, discrimination, wrongful action by a police officer. ... I think it can be done the right way," Jenkins added.

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