After the illegal immigrant who shot Kate Steinle was acquitted of murder and murder charges last week, senior Trump administration officials angrily denounced San Francisco and other sanctuary cities.
President Donald Trump called the verdict a "parody of justice," while Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to take measures that "would ensure that all jurisdictions put the safety of their communities above the convenience of foreign criminals "
These reactions elicited a provocative question: Could these measures include criminals? Are the prosecutions of sanctuary city officials based on their protection of illegal immigrants?
The idea of filing a criminal case against a government official for knowingly harboring an illegal foreigner is not without precedent. In 2008, federal prosecutors indicted a senior Customs and Border Protection official in Boston for employing an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper, even after supervisors warned the officer that he was violating immigration law.
That case did not involve the prosecution of a local official, a sanctuary city that acted in direct violation of the federal immigration law. But the administration could attempt such prosecution in unusual circumstances such as Kate Steinle's murder, according to Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies.
"I believe that a criminal case against a sanctuary official or government" is possible, although probably as a last resort, after having exhausted other options, and when the facts of the case are particularly atrocious or disturbing, "he told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.
Vaughan pointed to a couple of federal statues that could serve as the basis for a criminal case against officials of the Sanctuary City.
The first is 8 USC 1
The law does not has used to criminally prosecute officials of the sanctuary city, but Vaughn says that the Trump Reactivation of a program of the Department of Segurida National d could put such a case in the field of possibility.
That program, known as Secure Communities, allows federal agents to verify the immigration status of local prisoners when the police send the reserve fingerprints to the FBI. . Under the program, fingerprints to the FBI are automatically verified with the DHS immigration databases. If the checks reveal that an inmate is illegally present in the United States or has an expulsion order, the immigration authorities may notify the local police and request an immigration detention.
As Vaughan explains, the Trump administration could argue that Officers authorizing the release of deportable aliens protect the person from immigration authorities, a violation of Section 1324.
The second federal statue that can be invoked against officials of a sanctuary city is 8 USC 1373, which prohibits municipal governments from interfering with communication or cooperation with immigration authorities. The Trump administration has used Section 1373 to build its operational definition of a sanctuary city and threatened to withdraw federal grants from any city or state whose policies do not comply with the law.
While Section 1373 is not a criminal law, the Trump administration could use it to seek injunctions against jurisdictions that have enacted strong sanctuary laws, as California did earlier this year.
"Actually I'm a little surprised that they have not done it yet, especially in the case of the new California law, which will take effect next month," Vaughan said. "I can not imagine why they would not try to prevent that law from coming into effect, apart from the fact that the federal judges of the Ninth Circuit may not be hospitable, but even so, an unfavorable sentence can be appealed."
Absent legal action from the government, private individuals and groups may sue civilly for sanctuary jurisdictions. Although previous lawsuits against Chicago and California have failed, a bill under consideration in Congress could soon facilitate the filing of legal actions against city sanctuary officials.
The bill, Non-Sanctuary for Offenders, empowers certain victims of crimes committed by illegal aliens to sue sanctuary jurisdictions, if officials in that jurisdiction had previously released the alien in spite of an ICE detention.
The bill passed the House this summer and is awaiting action in the Senate.
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