Oped: Why We’re Meeting With Jeff Sessions

By Mayor Adler

On Tuesday, I’m joining a few mayors in Washington, DC, to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions what is turning out to be a complicated question: What exactly is a “sanctuary city?” With so much on the line, including federal funding, public safety, and relations with immigrant communities, mayors need to know what is meant by a term being used by a lot of people to mean many different things.

In January, the President offered his definition in an Executive Order that cut off federal grants from jurisdictions that “willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373.” That’s a federal law covering communication between government agencies. Since Austin communicates freely with federal agencies and does not violate this law, it wouldn’t seem we’re a sanctuary city. But we are nervous.

Alleged non-compliance with 8 U.S.C. 1373 was the reason the Attorney General sent letters on Friday to Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, Cook County, Illinois, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The letters asked for proof that they were communicating with immigration agents lest they lose federal grants to help local governments pay for things such as equipment, training, and data collection.

In effect, these are the first officially designated “sanctuary cities.” Austin and Travis County were not among them, but it is not clear whether that has any significance or if only a sample of such cities were listed. What the Justice Department did on Friday raises more questions, but by not being clear why some cities were named and why others such as Austin were not, it fails to answer the original question: What is a “sanctuary city”? Continue reading