Elorza: Under Trump administration’s definition, Providence is not a sanctuary city

Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Tuesday he doesn’t believe Providence – or any other jurisdiction in the country – meets U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ definition of a sanctuary city.

Elorza said Sessions told a group of mayors and police chiefs he defines sanctuary jurisdictions as places that violate a provision in federal law that requires local governments to share information regarding the immigration status of any individual with federal immigration officers.

When individuals are arrested in Providence, their fingerprints are entered into a database that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can access. There is no law that requires Providence to directly notify ICE when a person in the country illegally has been arrested.

“If that’s the definition of sanctuary city, then there are no sanctuary cities in the United States,” Elorza said in a phone interview following the meeting with Sessions in Washington, D.C.

The Trump administration has threatened to withhold Justice Department grants from sanctuary jurisdictions, but it hasn’t released a list of communities it believes is in violation of federal immigration law. Last week, Sessions sent letters to nine jurisdictions asking them to prove they were complying with federal immigration law or risk losing grants from the Justice Department. (Providence was not one of the cities that received the letters.)

Elorza, a Democrat who refers to Providence as a sanctuary city but also maintains the city fully complies with federal immigration laws, said he was encouraged by the meeting because there is “broad agreement that we want to focus on dangerous criminals.”

He said the group – which included the mayors of New Orleans; Columbia, South Carolina; Gary, Indiana; and Austin, Texas, as well as the chief of police in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors – attempted to explain how a broader crackdown on illegal immigration could affect municipalities.

“It was a rich conversation,” Elorza said. “There was definitely disagreement, but our goal was to help him understand the realties that we see on a daily basis in our communities.”

Elorza said both the attorney general’s office and the mayors need to do more research on ICE’s revamped immigration detainer policy, which took effect April 2. The new policy clarified ICE’s existing position and consolidated several detainer requests into one form. Providence only agrees to detain immigration violators if ICE officials secure a warrant from a judge.

The mayor’s interpretation of Sessions’ comments is unlikely to deter critics who argue Providence is too friendly to individuals in the country illegally. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare has said the city will not participate in the enforcement of immigration laws. And Elorza has said he will sign a far-reaching police profiling ordinance that would prohibit officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.

While ICE has not yet declared any community a sanctuary city, it has placed Providence and more than 100 other communities on a list of communities they believe “limit cooperation” with immigration officers. The agency initially pledged to release weekly reports listing jurisdictions that were declining detainers, but the reports have been temporarily suspended after several errors were found.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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