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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A visit by Attorney General Jeff Sessions thrust Miami-Dade County into the spotlight Wednesday and focused on a controversial topic – ‘sanctuary cities.’
While at Port Miami, Sessions announced that Miami-Dade County is now in full compliance and eligible for full federal grant dollars after agreeing to detain local inmates who are also sought for deportation as part of the president’s crackdown on immigration enforcement.
“It means more money for crime fighting. It means we’re partners together in keeping everyone safe,” said Sessions.
Sessions continued to tout Miami-Dade’s reversal earlier this year on sanctuary status. Sessions praised the county’s leaders and law enforcement for their decision on the matter.
“I recently read that Miami-Dade was one of the safest counties in America,” said Sessions. “It wasn’t easy but this place has truly earned it’s nickname as the ‘Magic City.’
Sessions says Miami-Dade is an example of what is possible through what he says is a “dedication to the rule of law.”
Sessions slammed other cities referred to as ‘sanctuary cities’ because they are believed to shelter illegal immigrants.
“At its root, it is a rejection of our immigration law and a declaration of open borders,” said Sessions. “This is lawlessness….they shelter and protect lethal gangs.”
He later went on, “we cannot continue to give tax money to cities that undermine active law enforcement,” in reference to the federal government saying they would withhold federal grants for ‘sanctuary cities’ if they do not comply with their immigration policies.
It’s a policy that prompted Chicago, considered a ‘sanctuary city,’ to file a lawsuit against the government saying they should not be threatened with federal grant money.
“The most fundamental duty of government is to ensure the safety and liberty of its people. Respect for the rule of law has broken down. In Chicago, their so-called “sanctuary” policies are just one sad example,” said Sessions.
Despite that, Sessions urged other ‘sanctuary cities’ to comply.
“Work with us. Please help us a enforce a lawful system of immigration,” said Sessions. “So to all ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions across the country, I say this: Miami-Dade is doing it, and so can you.”
Sessions’ latest effort to force local authorities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities is part of a push to reduce crime he believes is linked to illegal immigration.
Sessions visit also meant protests over the administration’s controversial immigration crackdown.
A number of groups were expected to protest during Session’s visit. Protesters gathered at the Torch of Friendship and then were expected to march to PortMiami.
“It’s an awful thing that’s happening, our communities are being harassed, they’re scared,” said Melissa Taveras with Florida Immigrant Coalition.
Sessions says there is a growing trend of violent crime in sanctuary cities.
Although Miami-Dade has never claimed to be a sanctuary community, a change in county policy in 2013 led the Obama administration to put the county on notice, along with roughly 20 other jurisdictions across the country.
The change required Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reimburse Miami-Dade Corrections department for holding jailed undocumented immigrants for ICE.
“Mayor Gimenez and Miami-Dade County have been working with the Department of Justice since President Obama was in office when the Obama administration declared that we may be a sanctuary community and at risk of losing federal funds, millions of dollars of federal funds,” said Miami-Dade County Communications Dir. Michael Hernandez. “We worked with the Obama administration, then we worked with the Trump administration.”
Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed the 2013 policy on detention requests shortly after President Trump took office and threatened to withhold funds from “sanctuary” jurisdictions.
The move led to protests and concern in the community with many fearing that Miami-Dade County police officers could be called on to enforce immigration policy.
“That’s intolerable, we’re not gonna stand for it, the administration and the Attorney General have presented very anti-immigrant rhetoric,” said Taveras. “To Mayor Gimenez, we say why, why are you doing this, why aren’t you supporting this immigrant community?”
Sessions has pledged to make fighting street crime the Justice Department’s top priority, but the strategy is putting him at odds with some city leaders, who say the best way to fight crime and build community trust is to keep local police out of federal immigration matters.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)