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Louisiana attorney general attacks 'sanctuary cities' as crime magnets

The Louisiana attorney general took credit Tuesday for New Orleans’ apparent shift away from “sanctuary city” policies in the wake of a Washington, D.C., hearing.

During testimony before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, Jeff Landry criticized the U.S. Department of Justice for forcing cities like New Orleans to accept policing policies that limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials.

“Sanctuary policies not only jeopardize the ability to protect our people, but they also allow illegals to commit crimes and then roam free in our communities,” Landry said.

While Republican subcommittee members said the proliferation of sanctuary cities has led to the release of thousands of criminal aliens nationwide, Democrats portrayed Tuesday’s hearing as a political sideshow that wouldn’t result in any meaningful actions.

“We’re having a hearing about a Donald Trump talking point,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois. Gutierrez sees the revised police policies in New Orleans under a 2012 Justice Department consent decree as an effort to rebuild trust between the local police and the city’s racially diverse communities.

Landry, however, said that as a result of the scheduling of Tuesday’s hearing, New Orleans and the Justice Department did work to change the wording of policies designed to ensure cooperation between the city and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He also cited his support for state legislation earlier this year to encourage local jurisdictions to follow federal law by cooperating fully with ICE.

“I am proud that our efforts to expose the actions of the DOJ and the city of New Orleans have resulted in substantive changes in the city’s policies,” Landry said in a prepared statement. “Because of the efforts we have made in Louisiana, our state no longer has any jurisdiction prohibited from communicating with federal immigration authorities.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), however, said the changes made to the New Orleans policing policies over the past week did not go far enough. Indeed, much of the hearing testimony and discussion evolved into an arcane debate over whether the policies complied with Title 8, section 1373, of the U.S. Code, which prohibits localities from restricting exchanges between their employees and ICE.

“Unfortunately, this coordinated effort by DOJ and the city of New Orleans to preserve the patina of legality of their consent decree clearly fails,” Goodlatte said.

Zach Butterworth, the city’s director of federal affairs, said during the subcommittee hearing that public safety remains the city’s top priority, that the murder rate has declined 18 percent since 2011, and that the new policing policies do not make the Big Easy a sanctuary city.

"We are glad Attorney General Jeff Landry has finally admitted the truth – New Orleans is not a sanctuary city," New Orleans Director of Communications Tyronne Walker said in an email to AMI Newswire. "We are just confused why Landry had to waste taxpayer money and time by flying all the way to Washington, DC to admit the truth. ... While Landry was grandstanding (Tuesday) morning, the NOPD was hard at work keeping our streets safe and ensuring our police department advances non-discriminatory policing."

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta defended the policies that the city and the Justice Department crafted, noting that the effort was spearheaded by the city’s request for help in reforming a police force that Mayor Mitch Landrieu described in 2010, as one of the worst in the nation.

Since 2010, the Justice Department has identified problems in the New Orleans Police Department that included excessive force, unconstitutional stops, racial and ethnic profiling and a failure to provide basic policing services to residents with low English proficiency, as well as failures to investigate sexual assaults and domestic violence, Gupta said.

To more effectively police the city and prevent and solve crimes, the city policy shifted focus away from officers asking about residents’ immigration status, she said.

“This means officers won’t question victims or witnesses about their immigration status unless for a legitimate law enforcement reason relevant to the investigation,” Gupta said.

Supporters of the new policy, who don’t view New Orleans as a “sanctuary city,” see the policy as an effort to rebuild trust between police and diverse communities in New Orleans. This, in turn, will lead people in immigrant communities to cooperate more with police, in an effort to get violent criminals off the street, the supporters say. Under this scenario, more criminals will be apprehended, creating a safer environment for all residents, whether citizens or not.

But detractors, such as Landry, see such policies as giving cover to illegal immigrants, encouraging further illegal immigration and creating underground economies. In Los Angeles, which he described as a sanctuary city, 2015 statistics show the city experienced an increase in all crimes, including a nearly 20-percent rise in violent crime, a 10.2-percent increase in homicides, an 8.6-percent rise in rapes and a 27.5-percent uptick in aggravated assaults, Landry said.

Citing data from ICE, he said more than 1,800 illegal immigrants released in sanctuary cities were later arrested after committing nearly 7,500 new crimes, including rape and child sexual assault.

Other cities have come under fire for labeling themselves sanctuary cities. A bill that would pressure Philadelphia to remove limits on communications with federal immigration officials passed the State Government Committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week and could be scheduled for a House vote soon.