Providence may face cuts as AG Sessions threatens sanctuary cities

Jeff Sessions, Sean Spicer
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, accompanied by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday the Justice Department will begin withholding grants to so-called sanctuary cities, a plan that could result in Providence losing out on more than $600,000 a year.

No one in the federal government has released a formal definition of what it means to be a sanctuary city, but the term is often applied to communities that limit cooperation between local law enforcement and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws,” Sessions said during the White House press briefing Monday.

Providence received $2.7 million in Justice Department grants between 2013 and 2016, according to an Eyewitness News review of federal grants awarded to the city. In 2016, the city received $122,000 through the department’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, $495,000 for community policing and $16,000 for transitional housing for victims of domestic violence.

Because the Justice Department has not released a list of sanctuary jurisdictions, it is unknown whether Providence will face cuts. Mayor Jorge Elorza has declared he considers Providence a sanctuary city, but he also maintains the city fully complies with federal law when it comes to immigration issues, including entering the fingerprints of anyone who is arrested into a database that is monitored by ICE.

The city refuses to hold undocumented immigrants for an extended period of time while ICE secures a warrant and police officers do not ask residents about their immigration status, two policies that lead critics to refer to Providence as a sanctuary city.

A list released last week by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security labeled Providence and the R.I. Department of Corrections as jurisdictions that have enacted policies which limit cooperation with the federal agency.

A spokesperson for Elorza did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

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