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The Justice Department is stepping up pressure on ‘sanctuary cities.’ Here’s how mayors are responding

Two dozen cities that shelter undocumented immigrants have been sent letters by the Justice Department, threatening to subpoena them over proof that they are complying with immigration rules. The news angered some mayors meeting in Washington for a conference. John Yang talks to Republican Mayor John Giles of Mesa, Arizona, and Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan of Albany, New York.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump told reporters late today that he envisions protections for young undocumented immigrants, in his words, morphing into citizenship in 10 or 12 years — this as the White House said it will make public an outline of an immigration reform bill next Monday.

    And all this on the same day the U.S. Justice Department stepped up pressure on so-called sanctuary cities that shelter undocumented immigrants. Officials sent letters threatening to subpoena officials in two dozen cities to prove they are complying with immigration rules.

    John Yang has more on the immediate backlash to this.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, anger over the letters led some mayors, like New York's Bill de Blasio, to skip a White House meeting with Mr. Trump to talk about infrastructure, opioid addiction and other topics.

    Speaking to the city leaders who did attend, the president had a message for those who didn't.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Sanctuary cities are the best friend of gangs and cartels, like MS-13. You know that. The result in the death rate around the sanctuary cities, in and around, for innocent Americans is unacceptable.

    The mayors who choose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal illegal immigrants over law-abiding Americans. But let me tell you, the vast majority of people showed up. OK? The vast majority, because the vast majority believe in safety for your city.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    For more on this, we're joined by two mayors, Republican John Giles of Mesa, Arizona, and Kathy Sheehan of Albany, New York, who is a Democrat.

    Mayors, both of you, thanks for joining us.

    Mayor Sheehan, let me begin with you.

    You were not invited. You were not invited to the White House meeting, but you were a recipient of one of those letters. Your city was a recipient of one of those letters. What's your reaction to that?

  • Mayor Kathy Sheehan:

    Well, I think it's unfortunate that we continue to hear rhetoric out of Washington that really fails to understand what is happening in our cities and why a city like Albany would choose to label itself as a sanctuary city.

    This is not about hiding undocumented immigrants in the basement of city hall. It's not about allowing criminals to be free. If somebody commits a crime in the city of Albany, whether they're an immigrant or whether they're a citizen, they're going to be prosecuted.

    This is about making sure that all of our residents feel safe coming forward to law enforcement if they have been the victim of a crime, if they have been the victim of human trafficking. We want to ensure that our cities are safe.

    And I think that mayors can add a lot to the dialogue and to the understanding that I think the White House and this Department of Justice needs to have with respect to what neighborhood policing means, to what it means to truly have community policing in a city.

  • John Yang:

    Mayor Giles, you were invited and you did attend that meeting at the White House.

    Explain to us your policy in Mesa about how you cooperate with the federal authorities on illegal immigrants, people who are in the country illegally, and also address what Mayor Sheehan just talked about, about the relationship between the police and the citizenship — or the people in your city.

  • Mayor John Giles:

    Sure.

    Well, it wouldn't be fair to say that Mesa is a sanctuary city in any way. We do cooperate with ICE and with immigration enforcement whenever we have folks that have been arrested due to some sort of violent crime that has resulted in their being put into our holding cells. We do make that information available to ICE.

    And, occasionally, several times during the year, ICE will come by our holding facility, and so we do cooperate in that way.

    Some things we would — do have in common, however, with the mayor of Albany is that we are a border town — well, not a border town, but we're a border state. And so we have a large amount of immigrants in our city. And we do our very best, particularly our police department, to work in a good way with those folks to help them feel comfortable, to know that we are a welcoming and diverse city.

    And by all means, we let them know that if they are ever the victims of a crime that they have nothing to fear by calling local law enforcement, that we are not aggressively enforcing immigration laws.

    However, when folks are caught up in the system and they're placed into our jail facility, that information is shared with ICE.

  • John Yang:

    Mayor Sheehan, today, the press secretary at the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said mayors can't pick and choose what laws they obey.

    What is your response to that?

  • Mayor Kathy Sheehan:

    Well, my response is that we are not picking and choosing what laws to obey.

    Our position is that we are in compliance with the law and that the — this definition of sanctuary city doesn't exist. The president's own chief of staff, when asked to define it, said, "I haven't got a clue."

    And so there is no federal definition of sanctuary city. It's a term that gets thrown about that I think is really misunderstood.

    But I think, ultimately, when it comes to policing, it's local decision-making that needs to drive our policies at the local level. And we also cooperate with ICE. This isn't as though we are hiding people from the federal government.

    But what we're saying is that, in the city of Albany, it's not our police officers' role to be checking on people's immigration status. That's not part of the role that we play with respect to policing at the local level.

    And so I think there's a lot of inflammation of this issue, and it's really dividing us. And the concern that I have, as a city that has a large refugee population, is that it frightens people. It frightens newly arrived immigrants to our city in a way that's not healthy and helpful for keeping our entire city safe.

  • John Yang:

    Mayor Sheehan, very quickly, are you going to provide the documents, the information that the Justice Department is asking for?

  • Mayor Kathy Sheehan:

    We believe that we have already provided all of the information that they are asking for. We're in the process of reviewing this new request for information.

    And I'm waiting for our law department to review that. And we will look at that, and if there's additional information that we need to provide, we will provide it.

  • John Yang:

    Mayor Giles, we have less than 30 seconds left.

    You may have heard the president said that he supports DACA recipients, a fix to the DACA program, allowing them to become citizens in 10 to 12 years, which is essentially what was in the Lindsey Graham-Dick Durbin proposal that he earlier rejected.

    Can you — do you support that?

  • Mayor John Giles:

    That's great news, absolutely.

    As I indicated earlier, there's a lot of folks that live in my community that are DACA-registered folks. I have been very outspoken in support of DACA. So, it's great to see the president evolve on that, hopefully, that he and Mr. Schumer can get that down in writing, and we can have a Dreamer act, a stand-alone Dreamer act, and get this out of the football arena, and provide a pathway to citizenship for these very patriotic, great Americans.

    And I have lots of them in our community. We love them. And I hope the president follows through on his comments today.

  • John Yang:

    Mayor Giles, Mayor Sheehan, Mayor Giles of Mesa, Mayor Sheehan of Albany, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Mayor John Giles:

    Thank you.

  • Mayor Kathy Sheehan:

    Thank you.

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