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DOJ says N.O. is compliant with immigrant laws

27th November 2017   ·   0 Comments

A day after meeting with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to determine whether the city is in compliance with federal immigration laws, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted that he has found no evidence that New Orleans is a sanctuary city.

The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to Mayor Landrieu November 17, saying the department “has found no evidence that New Orleans is currently out of compliance” with immigration laws.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department put New Orleans on a list of suspected sanctuary cities. The attorney general has threatened sanctuary city status could result in the loss of some federal funding.

Mayor Landrieu has always insisted the city follows the law. He met with Sessions November 16 in Washington, D.C. to discuss the matter, FOX 8 News reported.

The City of New Orleans has been shadow-boxing with the U.S. Department of Justice since early October over the issue of immigrant rights.

In a letter dated Oct. 11, the Attorney General’s Office informed the City of New Orleans that the city’s laws and policies on undocumented immigrants “may violate” federal law.

While the Feds would require New Orleans to notify the Immigration and Customs Enforcement within 48 hours of the release of undocumented immigrants from jail and allow ICE agents to interview undocumented immigrants while they are still in custody, the Landrieu administration said that it’s not within the purview of the NOPD to alert federal authorities when undocumented immigrants are in custody.

In 2016 New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, told the New Orleans Police Department not to ask criminal witnesses or victims about their immigration status. The Landrieu administration explained that this policy was a requirement under the federally mandated NOPD consent decree that the city and department began implementing in August 2013.

The 492-point consent decree is still being implemented despite the election of a new U.S. president and the appointment of a new attorney general who has said that he would seek to halt or at least significantly decrease the DOJ practice of utilizing consent decrees to bring local law enforcement agencies up to federal standards for constitutional policing.

The mayor also pointed out in 2016 that questioning criminal witnesses and victims about their immigration status could undermine NOPD efforts to solve crimes because of immigrants’ fear of deportation.

Since taking office in January, President Trump has vowed to crack down on sanctuary cities and threatened to withhold crime-fighting funds from cities that are not in compliance with federal immigration laws. He has repeatedly proposed the building of a wall to keep those who live below the U.S. southern border from illegally entering the country.

Mayor Landrieu responded to the DOJ’s most recent letter by noting that NOPD policy “does not restrict officers and employees from requesting information regarding immigration status from federal immigration officers.”

Alan Hanson, principal assistant attorney general, wrote that the Landrieu administration “certified that municipal officers and employees have been notified regarding New Orleans’ interpretation of its policy.”

On Nov. 20 a federal judge permanently blocked President Trump’s executive order that would have cut funding to cities that do not fully cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick rejected the administration’s argument that the executive order applies only to a relatively small pot of money and said Trump cannot set new conditions on spending approved by Congress.

The judge had previously made the same arguments in a ruling that put a temporary hold on the executive order targeting so-called sanctuary cities. The Trump administration has appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The District Court exceeded its authority today when it barred the President from instructing his cabinet members to enforce existing law,” Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement late Monday. “The Justice Department will vindicate the President’s lawful authority to direct the executive branch.”

Orrick’s ruling came in lawsuits brought by two California counties, San Francisco and Santa Clara.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the ruling was “a victory for the American people and the rule of law.”

“President Trump might be able to tweet whatever comes to mind, but he can’t grant himself new authority because he feels like it,” he said in a statement.

A lawyer for the DOJ argued during a hearing before Orrick in April that the executive order applied to only a few grants that would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco.

But the judge disagreed, saying in his rulings that the order was written broadly to “reach all federal grants” and potentially jeopardized hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to San Francisco and Santa Clara.

He cited comments by the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions as evidence that the order was intended to target a wide array of federal funding. And he said the president himself had called it a “weapon” to use against recalcitrant cities.

The Trump administration separately has also moved to withhold one particular law enforcement grant from sanctuary cities, prompting a new round of lawsuits that are pending.

Two days before Sessions’ letter to Landrieu, Jose Torres, a Salvadorian immigrant and father of two U.S.-born daughters, took refuge in First Grace United Methodist Church in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood seeking to avoid being deported and separated from his family. reported that Torres has lived and worked in the U.S. since he was 18 and is believed to be the first undocumented immigrant in Louisiana to join others across the nation in taking refuge inside houses of worship to avoid deportation.

Torres, 32, was expected to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday morning, the same day he sought refuge in First Grace U.M.C.

Like thousands of Latinos, Torres came to New Orleans in 2006 to find work in demolition and construction after Hurricane Katrina.

Torres was reportedly arrested in Jefferson Parish in 2013 on a first-offense DUI but told that the charge was expunged from his record after fulfilled the requirements of court-ordered community service.

Rachel Tabor, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers, told that Torres is being represented by two attorneys who are working with him on his deportation case and assisting him in applying for a T-Visa, which is given to victims of human trafficking within the U.S.

Torres said he was forced to work without pay after his passport was taken from him when he was 18 and living in rural Texas.

“While the United States welcomes lawful immigrants and visitors, our borders are not open to illegal migration,” Thomas Byrd, a spokesman for New Orleans’ ICE field office, said in a written statement. “Those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, or who have violated the terms of their visas, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, have no pending appeal and do not qualify for relief must be removed.”

First Grace U.M.C. is one of three New Orleans houses of worship that have indicated that they would provide a sanctuary space for undocumented immigrants facing deportation. The other two churches are St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Esplanade Avenue and Community Church Unitarian Universalist in Lakeview.

The Rev. Shawn Anglim of Grace United UMC told that the congregation began taking steps to become a sanctuary space soon after Donald Trump was elected president in Nov. 2016.

Anglim said Torres will be living in a communal space within the church, where he will be able to meet with his lawyers and be visited by family members. But he doesn’t plan to leave the church until the matter is resolved.

This article originally published in the November 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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