DENVER — The threat of the loss of federal funding loomed over county, city and state governments Monday as Attorney General Jeff Sessions called upon governments to work in full cooperation with new immigration directives.
The Department of Justice will issue over $4.1 billion in federal grants to cities, counties and state governments to aid in law enforcement efforts in 2017, but only to jurisdictions in full compliance with new directives made by President Donald Trump and laws currently on the books.
Sessions even went so far as to claim the federal government would go to court to take back grants issued to cities and other municipalities that prove they won't enforce directives.
"The Department of Justice will also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction that willfully violates (8-USC 1373)."
U.S. Code 1373 was put in the books in 2001 and requires communication between local authorities and immigration authorities like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Sessions led off his Monday press briefing by speaking directly to a case he said violates immigration policy -- that of Ever Valles, a suspected gunman accused of murdering a 32-year-old at Denver's Sheridan light rail station.
— Jacob Curtis (@JACOBCURTIS) March 27, 2017
"Valles was released from the Denver jail in late December despite the fact that ICE had lodged a detainer for his removal. The American people are not happy with these results," Sessions said.
Valles, a Mexican national, was formally charged in February after police identified him as a suspect in the robbery and shooting. He faces first-degree murder, robbery and gun charges.
Valles's first arrest was in October 2016, but was released in late December after posting a $5,000 bond. Police notified ICE about the release in the face of an ICE detainer.
Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesperson, said the notification came too late — an hour after Valles was released.
The alleged shooting followed just weeks after his release, although he was still on police radar and probation.
Communication and detention are points of contention between local police and immigration agencies, with the title of sanctuary city being thrown around on both sides.
Sessions threatened to strip federal funding to sanctuary cities, but he included those that don't follow all ICE requests, such as federal detainers which ask to hold suspects in police custody beyond their sentences or allotted time for questioning. Police say in most cases, they're following the law.
In Colorado, only Boulder has declared its status as a sanctuary city, but it only receives $8 million in federal funding — and received just under $150,000 in 2015, which the city says all goes to law enforcement programs.
"President Trump, in his executive order earlier this year, indicated that he did not intend for law enforcement programs to lose funding, and it is unclear whether the remarks made by Attorney General Sessions change this directive," a statement from the city of Boulder said. "If they do, the city will carefully examine the programs supported by this funding and make a determination about whether they can continue through alternate means."
"Boulder City Council members, in voting to protect the rights of immigrants in our community, were aware there could be budgetary consequences," the statement continued. "Nonetheless, they chose to align themselves with the values and principles expressed by other sanctuary cities in this country."
Other cities, including Denver where Valles was released, shirk sanctuary city status.
"We follow federal laws, we still cooperate with federal agencies and ICE. What we won't do is do anything unlawful or unconstitutional," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said.
"I have not in 20 years seen a case where somebody used a Bible to desecrate another faith's place of worship," said Corey Saylor, of CAIR. He knows what happened here isn't isolated.
Soon-to-be-released data will reveal a more-than 50 percent jump in 2016 in anti-Muslim cases from the previous year.
"Now it's more we're seeing vandalism, arson, people firing shots at mosques," Saylor said.
"A sanctuary city or state has no precise definition. Here in Colorado we embrace our immigrant and refugee communities, and we are committed to protecting the legal rights of all who live here. We share Sessions' priority for the safety of our communities. However, we believe this action could make our communities less safe by cutting funds to local law enforcement. We remain supportive of efforts to secure borders, which includes deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes. This conversation is another example of the need for Congress to step up and provide comprehensive immigration reform."
"DUIs, assaults, burglaries, drug crimes, gang rapes, crimes against children and murderers. Countless Americans would be alive today and countless loved ones would not be grieving today if these polices of sanctuary cities were ended."