Sessions gives sanctuary cities speech in Miami

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 02: U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, a committee member, waits for the beginning of a meeting of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee February 2, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

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Last Updated Aug 16, 2017 3:38 PM EDT

Attorney General Jeff Sessions singled out Chicago and other so-called sanctuary cities in a speech in Miami on Wednesday, after Chicago announced it will sue the Department of Justice for planning to cut off key law enforcement grants to localities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Sessions said it is "not moral or legal" for local officials to refrain from reporting criminal aliens to federal authorities and to allow such offenders back on the streets. The attorney general said hundreds of thousands of Americans are affected every year by crimes committed by criminals who are in the country illegally, describing several cases in which criminal aliens were accused or convicted of perpetrating violent crimes against U.S. citizens in sanctuary cities.

"The Department of Justice will not concede a single block or street corner in the United States to lawlessness or crime," Sessions said. "Nor will we tolerate the loss of innocent life because a handful of jurisdictions believe that they are above the law."

Sessions urged Chicago and other sanctuary cities to follow the example of Miami-Dade, where he said local officials are in full compliance with requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal officials to report and hand over people who are in the country illegally. Sessions linked Chicago's notoriously high violent crimes rates to its sanctuary city policies.

"In Chicago – a city with almost exactly the same 2.7 million person population as Miami-Dade – more than 433 people have been murdered since the beginning of the year," the attorney general said in his prepared remarks. "More than three times as many as Miami-Dade."

But CBS News' Paula Reid reports DOJ has been unable to provide any data supporting the connection between higher crime rates in Chicago and its immigration-related policies. 

The attorney general went also off script from his prepared remarks to address the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia -- calling the city "Charlotte" by mistake -- to denounce bigotry and praise the local law enforcement response there. Sessions, Reid reports, was one of the most vocal officials in the Trump administration to speak out first against Saturday's violent turn of events. 

"We've had a tough weekend in Charlotte, and um, I know you've all been following that. I want to thank state and local people and federal people that worked so hard since those tragic events there," Sessions said. 

"We cannot, and in no way can we accept or apologize for, racism, bigotry, hatred, violence, and those kind of things that too often arise in our country. I would say that the state people were engaged aggressively. Saturday night FBI was interviewing people in Ohio, they're moving aggressively in a collaborative way using the interstate capabilities that the federal agents have as well as on the ground capabilities of our state and local law officers."

The Justice Department is opening a civil rights investigation into the events surrounding Saturday's violence that left one woman, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, dead after a suspected attacker rammed his car into a sea of counter-protesters. 

Sessions has been at the forefront of the president's agenda to crack down on crime and illegal immigration. But Mr. Trump has attacked his attorney general on Twitter for supposedly being too soft on leakers in federal agencies, or on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server at the State Department. 

Mr. Trump, asked about his relationship with Sessions last week, said, "it's fine."

Live updates below:


Chicago needs to protect its citizens, not criminals, Sessions says 

The Attorney General faulted politicians in Chicago, saying they're prioritizing and protecting criminal aliens over law-abiding U.S. citizens. Sessions contrasted Chicago with Miami-Dade and a handful of other localities that are "choosing the rule of law."

"So to all 'sanctuary' jurisdictions across the country, I say this: Miami-Dade is doing it, and so can you," Sessions said in his prepared remarks. 

Sessions on sanctuary cities: "It is not moral or legal"

Sessions said sanctuary cities make themselves the best friends of drug smugglers and violent criminals, saying it is "not moral or legal" to refuse to work with federal immigration officials to deport criminal aliens. Local police, he said, are not to blame, rather, local politicians are.

Sessions: "Respect for the rule of law has broken down"

Sessions criticized Chicago and its murder rate, mentioning that Chicago just sued the U.S. over the DOJ's decision to pull grant funding for sanctuary cities. The attorney general said millions of Americans are affected every year by crimes committed by illegal aliens, describing several cases in which criminal aliens were accused or convicted of committing violent crimes against U.S. citizens.

"How can these politicians hear this story and do nothing?" Sessions said. 

Sessions veers from his script, supports police in "Charlotte"

Sessions took a moment to condemn the bigotry in "Charlotte," instead of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Sessions expected to urge sanctuary cities to comply with law enforcement, focus on Chicago

Sessions' prepared remarks urge sanctuary cities to comply with federal immigration authorities, and focus on crime in cities like Chicago. Here is an excerpt from his prepared remarks: 

"During the last administration, the Inspector General sent 10 letters to jurisdictions that they had reason to believe were not complying with federal immigration law. Last week, we sent a letter to your mayor and today I'm here to announce that Miami-Dade is now in full compliance and eligible for federal law enforcement grant dollars.

This is wonderful news for law enforcement and the citizens of Miami-Dade.  It means more money for crime fighting. And it means we are partners in keeping everyone here safe.

Unfortunately, some cities – like Chicago – refuse to follow your example.

In Chicago – a city with almost exactly the same 2.7 million person population as Miami-Dade – more than 433 people have been murdered since the beginning of the year. More than three times as many as Miami-Dade."

Acting ICE director: These are "preventable crimes, preventable victims"

Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said there's no reason to keep criminal aliens on the streets. As of July 31, nearly 10,000 criminal aliens released to the streets have committed another crime, he said. 

"Let me be clear. Entering this country illegally is a crime," Homan said. 

Homan said state and local politicians can't be in the business of "shielding" people from the law. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.