SACRAMENTO -- This week the Department of Justice sent letters to 23 different cities, counties and states that have embraced sanctuary policies for undocumented people --threatening to subpoena each one for proof that each jurisdiction’s law enforcement agencies are working with Immigration and Homeland Security agents.
Once again, Sacramento found itself in the crosshairs of the federal government. Sacramento County and the state of California were both on the receiving end of DOJ letters.
"This is really just an attempt to intimidate families and people ... and create an environment of fear,” said Eric Guerra, a Sacramento City Councilman.
Sacramento in the only major city within Sacramento County to consider itself a “sanctuary.” That status has positioned Sacramento among the list of DOJ targets.
Guerra says the city, legally, has no obligation to reply to the DOJ at this point. He says the DOJ, on the other hand, is overstepping its bounds.
"If the order the administration is sending us has no legal grounding, and we've seen that they don't, then we would fight the administration every time,” said Guerra, "The City of Sacramento is following everything within federal law to protect its citizens."
"I think it's intended to be a threat. That is-we don't like what you're doing. And we have the power to force you to do what we want you to do,” said John Sims, a professor and constitutional law expert at the McGeorge School of Law.
The DOJ letter states: “The Department remains concerned that your jurisdiction’s laws, policies, or practices may violate section 1373, or, at a minimum, that they may be interpreted or applied in a manner inconsistent with section 1373.”
U.S. Code Section 1373 mandates local law enforcement not block federal law enforcement from carrying out its duty.
Sims says no subpoena has been issued yet, and if Sacramento County refuses to release documents to the DOJ, a subpoena may well come. At that point, a refusal could end up before a judge.
"The word subpoena sounds like a really powerful word. Oh my, we're going to get hit with a subpoena. This is the normal process,” said Sims.
At least two federal judges have ruled that stripping federal funding from a jurisdiction simply because it disagrees with a local policy is unconstitutional. Still, however, the letter threatens that a loss of federal funding may follow for sanctuary cities or jurisdictions that don’t comply with DOJ requests.
The letter said: “Should the Department determine your jurisdiction is out of compliance with section 1373, the Department may, as detailed in your award documents, seek return of your FY 2016 grant funds, require additional conditions for receipt of any FY 2017 Byrne JAG funding for which you have applied, and/or deem you ineligible for FY 2017 Byrne JAG funds.”