L.A. Mayor ‘Not Scared At All’ of Being Arrested for Sanctuary City Status

Tamara Attia rallies in support of immigrant rights in Los Angeles on Feb. 18, 2017. (Ronen Tivony/Sipa via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he is “not scared at all” about the Department of Justice considering charges against local officials in sanctuary cities, calling it a “weak and pathetic move.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recently told a Senate committee hearing that DOJ is “reviewing what avenues might be available” to charge local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

“The context of this is, of course, not only putting my [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers at risk, but also finding an efficient and effective way to enforce our immigration laws,” she said.

During an interview with Fox News, Acting ICE Director Tom Homan recently said, “We’ve got to take [sanctuary cities] to court, and we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.”

PJM asked Garcetti if he is worried about potentially facing federal charges.

“Not at all. I think it’s a political circus. I think it’s about stirring up, you know, blowing a dog whistle – not about anything real. There’s not a single document we’ve ever cut back, and they know that. There’s not a single city in America that has done that, so it was kind of a weak and pathetic move and I’m not scared at all,” Garcetti told PJM during an interview at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting recently.

Garcetti was referring to DOJ requesting records from Los Angeles and other cities pertaining to their compliance with federal immigration law.

When asked if there are federal statutes that he thinks DOJ would be able to use against his city, Garcetti replied, “Nope. They can do it [withdraw federal funds] but we’ll probably get those funds because it’s probably going to be thrown out by courts as it has been now. We coordinate and cooperate with our federal authorities. We can’t break the Constitution, though, and that’s what some of their requirements have asked us to do.”

Democratic Mayor J. Christian Bollwage of Elizabeth, N.J., the fourth largest city in the state, explained that illegal immigrants who are arrested and accused of certain crimes like burglary are processed and released immediately in N.J. He compared DOJ’s threat to charge local officials to a fascist regime.

“The city of Elizabeth is not a sanctuary city, but it really scares me that the Department of Justice would send out subpoenas or arrest warrants for mayors who are performing their duty with respect to whatever their constituency is. So the threat of that reminds me of either a fascist regime or a strong dictatorship, and the United States has not moved in that direction, I believe,” he told PJM. “So therefore, it would strike me as extremely difficult to implement. And I hope when they say that, the Department of Justice, it was thrown as a way of fodder to say, ‘hey, we need to get you to start helping us.’”

Bollwage said anyone in his city who commits a crime of third degree or higher would likely go to jail, but undocumented immigrants accused of lesser offenses would be processed after their arrest and released.

“We are not a sanctuary city because there are times when outside agencies require our help and we are going to be helpful. In New Jersey, the issue of immigration does not really play into the county jails,” he said. “It doesn’t happen because if you get picked up for a violation and you are an undocumented immigrant, you are going to go to the local jail and with bail reform in New Jersey, you are not even going to be held if you’ve committed a traffic accident or something and you have no papers. Under bail reform in New Jersey, you are not even going to be held. You are let go immediately.”

In reaction to DOJ’s threat, Democratic Mayor Riley Rogers of the village of Dolton, Ill., said the federal government should support sanctuary cities because they are serving their constituencies.

“Well, I think as elected officials we need to look out for our citizens and you know we have some citizens that make up our complexion that are undocumented, and they’ve been here in some cases through no fault of their own,” Rogers told PJM. “So I think we need to support them. I think for the administration to reach out as far as to say we want to prosecute or we want to arrest or we want to come in and get those elected officials who want to serve their constituency, I just think that’s not the route to go.”

“I think they need to sit down at the table and we need to address the situation and we need to help these sanctuary cities, especially for these elected officials who have stuck their neck out to protect their citizens,” he added. “So that’s my feeling on it and I support sanctuary cities.”

PJM asked Rogers how his city handles arrests of undocumented immigrants compared to citizen arrests.

“I’m not sure and have not been exposed to any one individual who’s been arrested and undocumented, but I’m a former law enforcement officer. What we did was we process them just as any other arrestee and if they were able to post bond, we let them post bond,” he replied. “If there was a situation where there was an outstanding warrant or something like that, we would turn them over to the authorities that had that existing warrant and from that point whatever they did when they notified immigration was their issue.”

Rogers was also asked if the local jail holds undocumented immigrants upon request from ICE.

“Well, in some cases if the offender has posted bond our policy is not to hold anyone past 72 hours,” he said.

Rogers said repeat offenders who are undocumented would most likely be reported to ICE.

“I think most of the authorities would let them know, especially if they have a habitual violator or offender, and I think it’s to the best interest of the public that if we do have an immigrant or a regular natural citizen, if they are repeat offenders, is to deal with them to the fullest,” he said.

Republican Mayor John Giles of Mesa, Ariz., said that Mesa is not a sanctuary city.

“The way it works in our city is if you are arrested, not for something petty, but if you actually do something that provokes you being taken into custody and you are not immediately released but you are actually booked into our holding facility, that’s when a screening takes place and if there are red flags that come up as you are being processed into our jail system, that information is shared with ICE,” he said.

“On rare occasion, that will trigger ICE going, ‘oh, yeah, we’ve been looking for that guy’ and they will come out. It happens infrequently, but if someone commits a crime and it’s serious enough to not just be handed a citation but actually to be taken into custody and booked into the system, then they gambled and they lost,” he added. “They subjected themselves to having that information shared with ICE.”

Giles told PJM that Mesa is similar to Elizabeth, N.J., in terms of the types of crimes that would result in an undocumented immigrant being reported to ICE.

“I think a lot of that happens in my city as well,” he said. “It’s only the more hardened criminals that are actually being put behind bars that go through the screening process that will trigger a notification to ICE.”