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Local Lawmakers Fight Back Against AG Sessions’s Threats to Cut Funding to Sanctuary Cities

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The Trump administration has unveiled its latest attempt to target sanctuary cities that are refusing to help federal agents detain and deport undocumented immigrants. On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department would withhold billions of dollars in grants to law enforcement agencies in sanctuary cities. In response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and others vowed to defy the order and remain sanctuary cities. For more, we speak with Helen Gym, longtime community activist who was recently elected to the Philadelphia City Council.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Trump administration has unveiled its latest attempt to target sanctuary cities that are refusing to help federal agents detain and deport undocumented immigrants. On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department would withhold billions of dollars in grants to law enforcement agencies in sanctuary cities.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: The Department of Justice has a duty to enforce our nation’s laws, including our immigration laws. Those laws require us to promptly remove aliens when they are convicted or detained of certain crimes. The vast majority of American people support this commonsense requirement. According to one recent poll, 80 percent of Americans believe that cities that make arrest—that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to immigration authorities. Unfortunately, some states and cities have adopted policies designed to frustrate this enforcement of immigration laws. This includes refusing to detain known felons on the federal detainer request or otherwise failing to comply with these laws. For example, the Department of Homeland Security recently issued a report showing that in a single week there were more than 200 instances of jurisdictions refusing to honor ICE detainer requests with respect to individuals charged or convicted of a serious crime. These—the charges and convictions against these aliens include drug trafficking, hit and run, rape, sex offenses against a child, and even murder.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney General Jeff Sessions went on to explain that cities applying for grants will have to certify they are not providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: Today, I am urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws, including 8 U.S.C. Section 1373. Moreover, the Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with 1373 as a condition of receiving those awards.

AMY GOODMAN: In response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and others vowed to defy the order and remain sanctuary cities.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from a number of sanctuary cities are gathering here in New York for a conference organized by the Center for Popular Democracy. We’re joined right now by three people who are speaking at the conference. Helen Gym is with us, longtime community activist who was recently elected to the Philadelphia City Council. Gregorio Casar is an Austin city councilmember. When he first won election in 2014, he was the youngest councilmember in Austin’s history. He’s the son of Mexican immigrants. Also with us, from New Haven, is Michael Wishnie, clinical professor of law at Yale Law School, co-director of the school’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Helen, let’s begin with you. Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym, your response to—well, we heard this yesterday at the session that you were involved with, where people came from around the country to talk about sanctuary, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had just announced he would be going after cities that do what your city does—

HELEN GYM: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —Philadelphia.

HELEN GYM: Well, so what I’d say is that there’s no surprise that 48 hours or 72 hours after the president suffers one of the most humiliating defeats in Congress ever, that they go back to their tried-and-true distractions, which is to scapegoat immigrants. And it’s a tried-and-true practice. The American people have to reject it. They have rejected it. A week after the Women’s March, for example, we got Muslim ban one. This is a nonstop attack on scapegoating immigrants, in a divisive time, for the administration to score political points.

And what we’re doing here in New York City is bringing together a broad cross-section of municipalities and localities that are going to look at these threats, not with empty rhetoric, but with a real partnership and a network that’s going to rely on some smart legal strategy. It’s going to ask some series questions. We’re probably going to go into litigation over a lot of this stuff. There’s a lot of questions about whether anything has actually changed or whether they’re simply going on TV and hyping up the kinds of divisions that they hope to rely on in order to push through regressive agendas. But there’s no question that cities are taking this very seriously, not through fear or submission, but by pushing back, fighting back and making sure we’re going to establish the networks and the organizing, and our communities are going to feel safe and truly strong.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Helen, speaking about fighting back, you helped organize the protest at the Philadelphia airport during the Muslim ban 1.0. Could you talk about that, what happened and the success you had?

HELEN GYM: Yeah, I mean, I think that people understand very clearly what is going on, that this is an administration that’s extraordinarily sloppy. They don’t vet their own—their own papers that they put out. Their executive orders are a mess. And similarly, we’re not even sure that many things are changing between the Obama administration and the Trump administration on a legal front.

But there’s—what we’re doing is, communities are paying attention to this. So when the executive order came down on the first Muslim ban, you know, they came—it came in the middle of the night, and it was left to the Customs and Border Patrol agents to figure this stuff out in airports all across the country. We put out a call on social media that there were a number of families being detained at the Philadelphia airport. And people came down by the hundreds. They came in through the hundreds. And because the people came, a U.S. senator came, our governor came, politicians followed, and the policies changed. And that’s how people need to look at how we’re going to push back against these larger threats.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Helen Gym is a Philadelphia city councilmember. We’ll also speak with Gregorio Casar, the youngest-ever Austin city councilmember, and Michael Wishnie, telling a remarkable story about organizing against ICE a decade ago in New Haven. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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