Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday chided Portland and other sanctuary cities, saying they've become a "trafficker's, a smuggler's or gang member's best friend" and defended the Trump administration's threats to withhold federal grants from them.
The cities "believe they are above the law," Sessions said, urging them to reconsider their policies. Their refusal to alert immigration officials about the release of offenders who are in the country illegally leads to increases in crime, gang violence and lawlessness, he said.
"Think about that: Police may be forced to release pedophiles, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and arsonists back into communities where they had no right to be in the first place," Sessions said. "They should, according to law and common sense, be processed and deported."
Sessions addressed about 80 federal officers sitting in a room where naturalization ceremonies typically occur at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Northwest Portland. Faint strains of chants and a steady drum beat filtered in from outside as about 300 people gathered to protest the visit. Among their shouts: "When immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back."
On the walls in the room were framed photos with headings that read "Hope for a Better Life," "Our Promise of Freedom," "A Beacon of Hope and Opportunity" and "Celebrate Citizenship, Celebrate America."
Oregon's U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams introduced Sessions, praising the attorney general for working to strengthen partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Sessions soon launched into a criticism of how the local sheriff handled the controversial case of a man who had been deported 12 times, came to Oregon and then was arrested in December. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials asked the jail to notify them when Sergio Martinez was released, but the Sheriff's Office refused.
Martinez then cycled in and out of jail on a series of minor charges until he was arrested in late July, accused of attacking two women and charged with sexual abuse, sodomy, kidnapping and robbery.
In a series of tweets, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese fired back at Sessions, saying: "Local law enforcement should be focused on building trust within the community, not doing the job of federal immigration enforcement."
9/9 Forcing local law enforcement to act like immigration agents makes all of us less safe.— Mike Reese (@SheriffReese) September 19, 2017
But Sessions questioned how the decision to return criminals to the community when they face deportation increases trust. "Would releasing someone who had been arrested 10 times this year into your community give you more confidence in law enforcement?" he asked during his speech.
Later, after Reese emerged from a private meeting among Sessions, Oregon sheriffs and police, he said he had hoped to have a "productive dialogue'' with the attorney general but that Sessions "refused to acknowledge'' a federal magistrate's ruling in 2014 that found Clackamas County liable for holding an inmate beyond her release date at the request of agents who were still investigating her immigration status.
In the Martinez case, however, ICE wasn't asking Multnomah County jailers to hold Martinez longer, but to let immigration officers know when he would be released from custody so they could pick him up and hold him.
Sessions lambasted political leaders who have directed state and local officers to refuse immigration enforcement requests and vowed to stand behind federal authorities, saying, "We've got your back."
"Such policies undermine the moral authority of law and undermine the safety of the jurisdictions that adopt them,'' he said. "These policies do far greater damage than many understand. At its root, they are a rejection of our immigration laws and a declaration of open borders.''
He also cited a San Francisco case in which 23-year-old Abel Esquivel, a community volunteer, was allegedly shot and killed by two illegal immigrants during an attempted robbery. He called on California's governor not to sign legislation to further limit local law enforcement cooperation with immigration officials.
Sessions criticized sanctuary cities that "feign outrage" when they lose federal grant money because of their decisions not to help immigration agents.
The attorney general suffered a blow Friday when a federal judge in Chicago issued a nationwide injunction that blocks his attempt to deny grants to sanctuary jurisdictions. The Trump administration is appealing the decision.
"These grants are not an entitlement," Sessions said. "We strive to help state and local law enforcement. But we cannot continue giving such federal grants to cities that actively undermine the safety of federal law officers and actively frustrate efforts to reduce crime in their own cities."
Sessions, who spoke for 17 minutes to workers from ICE, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, also praised Oregon's Williams for speaking out in a local column about the Martinez case.
Activists demonstrated outside the immigration office before and during Sessions' brief talk Many opposed his phase-out of a program to protect young undocumented immigrants brought here as children, known as "dreamers."
Groups including Portland's Resistance, the Latino political group Milenio and Voz Hispana Cambio Comunitario organized the protest.
"Portland is not a fertile soil for right wing politics," Milenio wrote on its Facebook page.
Juan Rogel, executive director of Milenio, said he believes the attorney general's visit amounted to a campaign stop ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
"He came to see if they (Republicans) can win some elections here," he said.
Gregory McKelvey, leader of Portland's Resistance, said the groups "wanted to make sure Sessions knows he's not really wanted here.''
Mat dos Santos, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, called Sessions' remarks "rife with fear-mongering.''
Earlier Tuesday, Mayor Ted Wheeler released a letter opposing the administration's attempts to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
"Dreamers were brought to the United States as children, through no decision of their own,'' Wheeler wrote. "This is the only country they have ever called home. ... We should embrace Dreamers, not reject them.''
Gov. Kate Brown added her voice to the calls to preserve the program, saying "his position on DACA is absolutely counter to Oregon values and Oregonians.''
Before and after Sessions' visit, people came and went at the Citizenship & Immigration Services office. But access was restricted once Sessions arrived.
Mona Diab, a U.S. citizen from Egypt, was headed to the office to help her mother apply for a green card, but was a little unnerved when she was kept about two blocks away by police and told Sessions was at the building to give a speech.
Once Sessions left, Diab and her mother were allowed to go in. She said she wasn't a fan of Sessions. "If I didn't have business here," Diab said, "I would have been outside with the protesters.''
Sessions opened his remarks by talking about violent crime, including the fatal shooting in April of a teenager in Northeast Portland's Holladay Park and the fatal shooting of another 17-year-old in July in Gresham.
"The fundamental duty of this government is to protect the safety and the rights of its citizens," he said. "President Trump is a law and order president.
"One of his first executive orders was to back our police and another was to reduce crime in America," Sessions said. "That is our goal. That is your goal. We must not cave to rising crime. Working together, with professionalism and dedication we can begin to turn this pernicious trend."
Sessions later met privately with federal prosecutors in the downtown federal courthouse and with Oregon sheriffs and police officers.
Along with Reese, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, Portland Assistant Police Chief Chris Davis, Portland Police Cmdr. Robert King and Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner attended the closed-door session. Unlike his appearance earlier in the day, Sessions took questions from local law enforcement officials.
"I'm thrilled he's coming out and listening to local law enforcement,'' Nelson said. "He supports local law enforcement. I'm impressed.''
Garrett said the discussion ranged over the gamut of public safety issues, including violent crime, drug trafficking and the nation's opioid crisis.
Some sheriffs and police raised concerns about a recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found defendants can't be brought into court for a pre-trial hearing, trial or sentencing in shackles unless the court makes a specific allowance. Garrett and other sheriffs believe the ruling threatens public safety and urged the attorney general to request review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The attorney general said his office would seek the review, Garrett said.
Sessions left the federal courthouse about 4:40 p.m., headed to San Diego to speak about drug enforcement before the U.S. Coast Guard, said spokesman Devin O'Malley.
Oregonian Staff Writers Eder Campuzano and Hillard Borrud contributed to this story.
-- Maxine Bernstein
Source : http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2017/09/attorney_general_jeff_sessions_1.html