Little clarity on ‘sanctuary’ meaning after mayors meet with DHS chief


Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other mayors meet with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Homeland Security Secretary Kelly did most of the talking during the brief meeting, Adler says.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler was staying optimistic Wednesday after he and other mayors met with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to hear firsthand about President Donald Trump’s priorities in the wake of new immigration enforcement efforts and promised retaliation against so-called sanctuary communities.

Kelly did most of the talking during the brief meeting with about a dozen mayors and police chiefs, Adler said. The group considers it a first step to weighing in on administration priorities.

“It’s to start opening the communication lines and build a relationship,” Adler said. “To make sure the secretary understands that Austin and Travis County are not violating any state laws … and ultimately to help influence, hopefully, what the final regulatory structure is.”

In an executive order Jan. 25, Trump called for withholding federal funding from localities whose policies limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Austin has argued it isn’t a sanctuary city. But Travis County, which operates the jail, has declined to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to detain inmates for immigration checks unless the inmate is charged with a serious violent crime or ICE has a warrant.

On Tuesday, Travis County announced it would join dozens of cities and counties nationwide in supporting a lawsuit asking a federal court to block Trump’s executive order. The city and county of San Francisco filed the suit in late January, arguing the order violates states’ rights and oversteps executive power.

The Travis County Commissioners Court voted 4-1, with Commissioner Gerald Daugherty dissenting, to support the suit in an amicus brief with 34 other cities and counties. Austin has signed onto a brief supporting a similar lawsuit by the county of Santa Clara, Calif.

Adler — who has argued compliance with such immigration detainer requests is voluntary and the executive order applies to communities violating laws — said he received no clarity on the Washington trip about the definition of a sanctuary city or a timeline for when the administration would begin to take action against them.

The group mostly heard from Kelly about the administration’s goals.

“He did emphasize that it was his priority to get the bad guys off the streets, the criminals,” Adler said. “In that respect, his goals coincide with the goals of the cities and police chiefs that were there.”

Mayors from other cities likewise told news organizations they were glad to be talking, but lacked clarity on administration policies and the sanctuary label.

“We’re not interested in some label or term that seems to be generated by people outside the mainstream for some political or manipulative effect,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, told Politico.

There was no time during the meeting to speak about Austin’s experience, but Kelly instructed the mayors to follow up with Deputy Assistant Secretary Alaina Clark, Adler said. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which organized the trip, will prepare a letter detailing the mayors’ views.

Adler will likely also draft his own response, he said.

“Counties like Travis and cities like Austin join in wanting to make sure our streets are safe and we will join in that,” he said of its message. “The other message would be to say: There’s a way to do that and keep trust relationships. There’s a way to do that without impacting anyone’s constitutional rights.”

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