This past Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sent letters to nine jurisdictions that had been identified in a May 2016 report by the DOJ Inspector General as having laws that potentially violate 8 U.S.C. § 1373—in other words, these are places that local officials have declared sanctuary cities.
Reportedly, Sessions is warning each of those cities they have to prove compliance with federal immigration laws by June or risk losing federal funding from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant.
Named after Edward Byrne, a New York City police officer who was assassinated by a drug gang in 1988 while he sat in a marked patrol car guarding a witness, the grant provides critical funding for police departments around the country, including: law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.
I live in the biggest sanctuary municipality of them all―New York City―a place that celebrates its diversity, a melting pot of countless cultures where hard- working immigrants and their children can climb the educational and economic ladder. And it’s incredibly safe for a city its size, especially when compared to the rest of the country. The fact is, I feel five times more safe here than in most of Session’s home state, Alabama, which also happens to be where I grew up and visit often. Although Alabama’s biggest city, Birmingham, is going through an exciting economic and cultural rebirth, there are pockets of nasty violent crime that statistically make New York City look like Mayberry in comparison.
And, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Alabama had the third-highest rate of death by guns in the United States (behind Alaska, Montana and Louisiana). Nonetheless, Alabama’s affection for guns runs deep. State leaders in Montgomery just passed a bill eliminating the requirement for a permit from a county sheriff to carry a concealed handgun.
The bloodshed in Session’s own backyard didn’t stop him from citing Chicago’s spike in gun violence or a gang-bust in the Bay Area, and then he launched into a rant about New York City and the danger it faces from immigrants and transnational gangs.
“New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s ‘soft on crime’ stance,” said the DOJ statement.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio wasted no time hitting back on the “soft stance” quip. He wrote in the New York Daily News Saturday that “New York City’s record on public safety is nothing less than stunning. This is a city of 8.5 million people. We host around 60 million visitors a year. Yet, we continue to beat our own records on driving down crime.”
New York City has seen crime fall for the past quarter-century. “Last year was the safest in this city’s modern, recorded history. Last year, we had the fewest shootings,” wrote the mayor.
New York City has been doing something right. In 1990, more than 2,300 people were murdered here. By 2016, that number had dropped to 355. Since 1993 overall crime in this city has fallen 73 percent according to NYPD.
Meanwhile, in cities such as Memphis, population 600,000, there were 228 murders in 2016; in St. Louis, a town of just over 300,000, 188 murders in 2016. And, in mine and Jeff Sessions’ beloved native home state sits Birmingham, a city with barely more than 200,000 people which saw 104 people murdered in 2016.
Sanctuary cities do not permit municipal funds or resources to be applied in furtherance of enforcement of federal immigration laws―at least on paper. These cities normally do not permit police or municipal employees to inquire about one’s immigration status.
Truth be told, U.S. citizens are more likely to commit a violent crime than immigrants. Numerous studies have confirmed this. Jeff Sessions is promoting biased and xenophobic illogic. People like Sessions and President Trump are experts at exploiting fear and ignorance.
There is a also a deep scent of hypocrisy wafting from the Trump administration justice department. If Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials truly wanted to take a bite of crime, they would focus their energies on the abject poverty, isolationism, and the social, educational as well as economic inequity infecting many of our cities and rural areas. These are places where poverty equals hopelessness and hopelessness is a state where survival at any cost is the reality. Violent crime festers in communities and conditions like that. I’d argue that Jeff Sessions should consider New York City’s remarkable decline in violence as something to aspire to. Perhaps he could pay the city a visit, and learn a thing or two that could be implemented in places like Alabama.