Sanctuary status clouds city’s access to public safety funds

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s most populous city stands to lose out on millions of dollars in crime-fighting grants because of its status as a sanctuary city, but some elected officials said Wednesday the U.S. Justice Department is holding out the promise of more federal funding to get Albuquerque to reconsider policies preventing the sharing of information with federal immigration authorities.

“We just won’t do that. They’re using this as a political stunt,” said Councilor Pat Davis, a Democrat who has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Davis was responding to an opinion piece published in the Albuquerque Journal on Monday by U.S. Attorney John Anderson, the top federal prosecutor for the district of New Mexico.

Anderson wrote that 2019 had the dubious distinction of being the deadliest year in Albuquerque’s history with 82 recorded homicides and that additional funding would help the city address its high rates of violent crime.

However, Anderson said, the funding comes with conditions. Among them, the city would have to certify that it complies with a provision in federal immigration law that makes it illegal for a state or local government to prohibit employees from sharing with federal law enforcement certain information about peoples’ immigration status.

Anderson wrote that the Justice Department hopes the city can somehow find its way to accepting the needed funds.

“As a matter of principle, Albuquerque should use every tool at its disposal to reduce violent crime and make our city safer,” he wrote.

Anderson’s comments came as the Justice Department this week ratcheted up legal pressure on local governments over sanctuary policies that hinder federal immigration officers.

The agency on Monday brought lawsuits against the state of New Jersey and the county that is home to Seattle over immigration policies that offer protections to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. The agency also launched a coordinated messaging campaign to highlight what has been one of Trump’s priorities.

The fight over law enforcement grants in Albuquerque has been simmering for years. The city in 2018 adopted a resolution sponsored by Davis and fellow Councilor Klarissa Peña that reaffirmed Albuquerque as an immigrant-friendly city.

The resolution reiterated policies that prevented federal immigration officials from entering city-operated areas, restricted city employees from collecting immigration status information and prohibited local tax dollars from being spent on federal immigration law enforcement.

The Justice Department has reached out to the Albuquerque Police Department about funds available under Operation Relentless Pursuit, the initiative announced in December by Attorney General William Barr to combat violent crime in seven of America’s most violent cities.

The operation involves boosting the number of federal law enforcement officers in Albuquerque and the other cities and building partnerships with state and local authorities. Up to $71 million in grant funding was promised to help with hiring new officers, paying overtime and providing equipment and technology.

While Albuquerque has not applied for the funding, Davis said the city and the Justice Department are working on other initiatives that include a focus on what authorities describe as the “worst of the worst” offenders.

If the city applies for grant funding and is denied, Davis said he would support going to court to try to get the funding. The city already is in a legal battle with the Justice Department over grant funding dedicated to tackling a backlog of untested rape evidence kits.