Jeff Sessions’s Anti-Sanctuary City Campaign Yields More Fruit, West Palm Beach Clarifies Police May Share Info With Feds

Jeff Sessions and West Palm Beach Mayor Geraldine Muoio
AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, AP Photo/Steve Mitchell

The Democrat-run City of West Palm Beach, Florida dropped its lawsuit challenging Attorney General Jeff Sessions and issued a memo Tuesday afternoon clarifying that its police and public employees may share information on illegal aliens with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as required by federal law.

In exchange, Sessions’s Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in a letter to Mayor Geraldine Muoio that it does not consider West Palm Beach a “sanctuary city” for purposes of distributing DOJ’s lucrative Bryne JAG grants for local law enforcement.

The saga began last year when, two months after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, West Palm Beach issued a resolution declaring the resort town a “welcoming city,” using language broadly similar to other so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions. It explicitly prohibited any of its employees, including police, from sharing information on illegal aliens’ with federal authorities. In relevant part it reads:

No Agent or Agency shall disclose information regarding the Citizenship or immigration status of any person unless required to do so pursuant to Florida Statutes; Federal Law; the City of West Palm Beach Code of Ordinances; other binding court decisions, opinions, or processes[.]

Meanwhile, 8 U.S.C. § 1373 states that jurisdictions “may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration officials] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” Compliance with § 1373 is specifically required to be eligible to receive Bryne grants and forms the basis of one of Sessions’s main strategies for reining in “sanctuary cities.”

The affront to federal law was serious enough that West Palm Beach was included in Sessions’s second round of letters to potential sanctuary cities last November, demanding they show compliance with § 1373 or lose their Bryne grants, and then threatening to issue subpoenas if that documentation was not forthcoming.

West Palm Beach’s response was to sue Sessions and the Department of Justice claiming it was in compliance with § 1373 despite their “welcoming” resolution and that, in any event, it was unconstitutional to condition federal money on the city proving it followed federal immigration law. At the time, DOJ spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement:

The City of West Palm Beach previously agreed to comply with Section 1373—a law that promotes cooperation between local and federal law enforcement—when it accepted FY2016 Byrne JAG funds during the previous administration. Despite the City’s commitment and the fact that the grant condition has already withstood a legal challenge, the City has now sued the Trump Administration for attempting to determine if the City has honored its promise to uphold the rule of law and protect its citizens by sharing information with federal immigration authorities about illegal aliens in the City’s custody because they committed crimes, and that it intends to release back into the community.

On Tuesday, the city dropped that lawsuit and West Palm Beach City Attorney Kimberly Rothenburg issued a memo offering “interpretative guidance” that all but abrogates the resolution’s restrictions as they apply to the federal government:

All personnel are reminded that you may share—and it is consistent with City Resolution 112-17 and federal law to share—with federal authorities, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, any and all information, including information regarding citizenship and immigration status, to which you have access or knowledge as a result of the performance of your job duties for the City of West Palm Beach, regarding any individual.

An administration official saw this as a clear victory and potentially a warning to arch-sanctuary jurisdiction California with whom DOJ is now embroiled in litigation, saying in a statement:

Since the Trump Administration sued California for their sanctuary policies, California jurisdictions are tripping over themselves to create distance from Governor Brown’s dangerous policies, and now West Palm Beach is instructing its employees to cooperate with ICE in order to avoid a loss in the courts. It is clear that the American people support the administration’s push to protect the public from cities and states that seek to put illegal aliens who have committed crimes back on our streets rather than in the custody of federal immigration authorities.

Mayor Muoio, however, told Breitbart News she also saw the settlement as “a big win for West Palm Beach.” “This settlement just reiterates what we already said in our resolution – that we would obey state and federal law … we’re proud to be a welcoming city and we see this as a big win,” she explained.

Muoio insisted she did not foresee any change in practices on the ground in West Palm Beach and that, despite the broadly permissive language in Tuesday’s memo, she saw no conflict between it and the text of the welcoming city resolution. “It was our intention always that, if required to do so, we would share information,” she told Breitbart News. “We are not collecting information, that’s not our job, but if we have information and the federal government wants access to that, we’ll of course give that to them.”

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