Amid protests, Sessions calls out sanctuary cities in PortMiami speech

MIAMI (WSVN) - United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Miami to speak out about sanctuary cities and immigration policy, Wednesday afternoon, and he was greeted by dozens protesters who wanted to make sure their concerns were heard.

Sessions arrived at PortMiami to deliver a speech at around 3 p.m. In his address, he called out cities across the U.S. that are not compliant with President Donald Trump’s order to drop their “sanctuary” status. These cities limit their cooperation with the government’s effort to enforce immigration law, in some cases allowing undocumented immigrants to reside there without facing deportation.

The attorney general also touched on the violence that rocked Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. “I know you’ve all been following that. I want to thank the state and local people, the federal people that worked so hard since those tragic events there,” he said. “In no way can we accept, apologize for racism, bigotry, hatred, violence and those kinds of things that too often arise in our country.”

Sessions said authorities are making progress in their investigation into the white nationalist rally that spiraled into chaos. “The state people were engaged aggressively. Saturday night, the FBI were interviewing people in Ohio,” he said. “They’re moving aggressively in a collaborative way.”

The attorney general, who was joined by ICE Acting Director Tom Homan, then praised Miami-Dade County for being the first in the nation to drop its sanctuary community status, earlier this year. “Every year, too many American lives are victimized as a result of sanctuary city policies,” he said, “whether it be theft, robbery, drugs, assault, battery, even murder.”

Sessions announced the county is fully compliant and is eligible to receive $500,000 in law enforcement funds from the federal government.

He also urged other cities, like Chicago, to drop lawsuits against the government and follow suit in helping them detain and deport illegal immigrants arrested for crimes. “It is a rejection of our immigration law and a declaration of open borders,” he said.

While Sessions spoke, dozens of demonstrators came together in Downtown Miami, near PortMiami, to rally against the Trump administration’s immigration policies and a recent uptick in public events organized by white nationalist groups. “No Sessions, no KKK, no racist USA,” chanted protesters.

Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Juan Cuba called out Miami-Dade’s mayor. “I’m embarrassed by our leadership, by Carlos Gimenez, who surrendered to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies,” he said.

“We’ve had approximately 463 detainer requests come in as of last Friday,” said Michael A. Hernandez, Miami-Dade County Senior Advisor and Director of Communications. “Of those, about 174 individuals who were arrested on local charges and being held in Miami-Dade County jails were taken into custody by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.”

Since 7News interviewed Hernandez, that number of requests has gone up to more than 475.

But protesters argued the effects Trump’s policies have on the community are not worth the federal funds. “Attorney General Sessions is here to send a message to cities around the country: that complying with Donald Trump will earn you federal dollars,” said City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell. “I disagreed with that because federal dollars are valuable, but the trust of your community is priceless.”

Meanwhile, about 30 people marched from the Torch of Friendship, next to Bayfront Park, to PortMiami and then to the Freedom Tower. “This is a country that was supposedly founded on opportunity and quality [of life] for everybody,” said Badili Jones, “and here in Miami especially, since this is a city of mostly immigrants. We need to oppose these policies of Trump.”

Among the demonstrators were members of “Miami Fights Back,” one of several groups that have pushed back against sanctions Sessions has threatened against sanctuary cities. “I think what we represent is the community as a whole,” said Florida Immigrant Coalition member Melissa Taveras, “which is really fighting for an important part, an intricate part, of our community, which is the immigrant community.”

After his speech, Sessions did not take any questions, including whether he plans to pursue those responsible for the violence in Charlottesville.

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