Denver: "Nothing Changes" After Jeff Sessions Comments on Sanctuary Cities

Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
President Donald Trump has been threatening to pull federal funding from cities that aren’t participating in federal immigration enforcement — otherwise known as sanctuary cities — ever since he issued a January 25 executive order on immigration. On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions doubled down on that threat at a press conference held at the White House.

“I urge our nation’s states and cities to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies,” Sessions said. “Such policies make their cities and states less safe, and put them at risk of losing valuable federal dollars.”

Since the January 25 order, Denver has not formally labeled itself a sanctuary city, and city officials insist that no laws have been broken when it comes to immigration enforcement.

That includes Denver sheriffs electing not to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detainers” — requests from ICE to hold on to suspected undocumented inmates in local jails past their sentences for extra processing. Despite the White House publishing its first weekly list of “uncooperative” jurisdictions last week and basing it on declined detainers, federal courts have ruled that it is not illegal for a county like Denver (which showed one declined detainer on last week’s report) to refuse detainers unless presented with a warrant by ICE.

In response to Sessions’s comments, city spokeswoman Amber Miller says, “This tough talk by the federal government does not make our communities more safe. What does is a system where federal and local governments respect each other’s roles and work together to close gaps and focus on dangerous people in our cities.”

Miller also characterizes Sessions’s remarks as being no different than what was already announced in Trump’s January 25 executive order.

“Nothing changes in Denver,” she says. “Here are the facts: Denver does not shield violent criminals, we do not violate any federal immigration laws, we will always honor federal warrants, and we have open lines of communication with ICE so we can focus on apprehending dangerous individuals and keep our city safe.

"What we heard from the AG...was simply a reiteration of threatened punitive funding action that we believe would be against the law. That's why Denver is challenging the executive order in court alongside 34 other cities and counties at this time."

The aforementioned case is currently being heard in a federal court in San Francisco; it asserts that Trump’s January 25 executive order is unconstitutional, and that pulling federal funding from local municipalities would cause irreparable harm.

On Monday, Sessions also made mention of Ever Valles, who had been known to ICE but became a suspect in the murder of a man near a Denver RTD station in February after Valles had been released from jail. At the White House briefing, Sessions used Valles as an example, saying that ICE had issued a detainer for Valles which was not honored by the Denver Sheriff Department.

Miller says that his statement is incorrect.

“For over two months, ICE never issued a federal warrant even though they were aware Mr. Valles was in the jail,” Miller says. “The AG’s reference to the Valles case was incorrect. ICE never issued a 'detainer' to the Sheriff Department. They had submitted a request for notification of release of the prisoner, which was provided.”

Denver was hardly the only city to react to or speak out against Sessions' comments. The City of Aurora held a special study session on Monday night to examine sanctuary issues in light of continuing threats from the federal government. And the U.S. Conference of Mayors also sent out a press release penned by its CEO and executive director Tom Cochran:

“Today U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions accused some states and cities of adopting ‘policies designed to frustrate the enforcement of our immigration laws.’ This statement is incorrect, unfortunate, and ignores both the Constitution and policing practices that have made our cities safer.

“On Wednesday mayors and police chiefs representing the U.S Conference of Mayors and the Major Cities Chiefs Association will be meeting with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to discuss his Department’s role and policies relating to implementation of the interior enforcement executive order, particularly the portions governing sanctuary cities."