Justice Department warns DC over immigration policy

WASHINGTON — D.C.’s status as a so-called sanctuary city has earned it a warning letter from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The letter said the District’s policy of banning corrections employees from asking inmates about their immigration status or contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement may violate federal law, and that means federal grant money may be taken away.

The money comes from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program and pays for violence-prevention programs in the city.

The District must respond to the letter by Dec. 8.

Similar letters were sent Wednesday to 28 other cities, counties and states, although no others are in the D.C. region.

“I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

But in a statement provided to WTOP, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said:

“When it comes to being welcoming, Washington, D.C. is already great — not simply because we are diverse, but because we celebrate our diversity. We know we are a safer, stronger D.C. when all people, regardless of status, can call the police, go to school or seek medical aid. Our policies not only protect the safety and rights of our residents, but they are in compliance with the law. We will stand with our congresswoman and attorney general to protect all residents.”

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine also released a statement:

“Our utmost priority is ensuring the safety of all of our residents, regardless of their immigration status. DOJ’s threat to cut off funding for important public safety programs is counterproductive and wrongheaded. Our city is safer when all our residents trust local law enforcement. The District is in compliance with all federal laws. We will review DOJ’s letter and are prepared to defend our residents however necessary.”

On Wednesday, a federal judge stepped in to prevent the city of Philadelphia from losing a federal grant over its “sanctuary city” status. The money pays for public safety equipment.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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