U.S. Attorney General William Barr implored chief justices in Oregon and Washington in a letter Thursday not to expand so-called “sanctuary” policies to public areas of courtrooms to shield illegal immigrants from arrest by federal agents.
In the letter, Barr said both states were already releasing too many dangerous aliens onto U.S. streets and that they need not continue adding to the problem.
He also pointed to a number of recent cases in the Seattle area involving gang-connected illegal aliens who stood accused of horrific murders including one where a popular teenage high schooler was beaten to death with a bat and then chopped into pieces with a machete.
Barr also warned the justices that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers as well as Border Patrol agents are within their authority to make arrests in public areas of courthouses, noting that efforts by both states to expand sanctuary policies to cover courtrooms would have a limited effect.
“Under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, such rules cannot and will not govern the conduct of federal officers acting pursuant to duly enacted laws passed by Congress,” he said in the letter, which was also signed by acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf.
The letter signifies the latest back-and-forth between liberal states and the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement efforts, where political opponents of the president work to undermine federal immigration laws.
Local officials who oppose the administration have announced expansions of sanctuary policies to include specific places like courthouses, where ICE and Border Patrol agents are not permitted to do their jobs.
Supporters of the sanctuary courtroom policies say they are necessary to ensure that illegal aliens will show up for their proceedings. And state officials who support expansion of sanctuary policies say they will cooperate with ICE when they obtain a judicial arrest warrant signed by a federal judge.
But Barr and Wolf, in their letter, argued that is a misreading of how the immigration system works. The note that federal immigration authorities operate under administrative warrants and that federal law and rules permit them to use those to detain illegal aliens.
“Administrative arrest warrants while civil in nature are issued based on probable cause, carry the full authority of the United States, and should be honored by any state or local jurisdiction,” the letter states.