Lawrence pushes back against new federal request on immigration

Mayor Dan Rivera, of Lawrence.
Mayor Dan Rivera, of Lawrence.(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff)

The mayor of Lawrence pushed back strongly against a new federal request for information related to immigration enforcement, calling the demand a political stunt meant to deflect from failed efforts at the national level to bring about immigration reform.

“Today’s letter comes as a surprise because, to date, we have not given the [Department of Justice] any reason to think that we are hiding anything from them,” said Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera in a statement responding to a letter the Justice Department sent to 23 so-called sanctuary cities on Wednesday. “I would challenge the DOJ to produce a report of the number of undocumented criminals they have been looking for that we have denied them access to.”


In fact, Rivera said, the city has helped the federal government find undocumented criminals nine times since becoming a sanctuary city in 2015.

Wednesday’s request, Rivera said, is a “fishing expedition,” “a red herring,” and a continued effort to “politicize the federal government’s failure to produce common-sense immigration policy.”

“If they make it seem that we are hiding the bad guys, it takes away the urgency to help the good guys,” he said.

In November, the Justice Department told 29 sanctuary cities, including Lawrence, that they might be violating a federal law that prohibits government entities from restricting officials from sending information about someone’s immigration status to federal agents.

The letter to Lawrence specifically mentioned the city’s “Trust Ordinance,” enacted to help law enforcement build trust by not enforcing civil immigration laws and, in some cases, not inquiring about immigration status. The federal government requested clarification in writing.

Lawrence’s eligibility to maintain a $72,000 public safety grant was at risk, the letter said.

The city responded, but on Wednesday the Department of Justice asked the city to produce documents to back up what it said in its written response.


The federal government threatened to subpoena the documents in question if they weren’t turned over “in a complete and timely manner,” the announcement said.

“Enough is enough,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law.”

But the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which represents Lawrence and Chelsea in federal lawsuits challenging the Trump administrations efforts to defund sanctuary cities, called Wednesday’s demand “an escalation” in the government’s ongoing encroachment on the rights of cities and states.

“From our point of view, this is harassment and bullying and empty grandstanding,” said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director at the lawyers’ committee. “They are just using this as another opportunity to engage in incendiary rhetoric and escalate the bullying and harassment tactics.”

Lawrence has fully complied, and Wednesday’s letter does not indicate that the federal government is asking for new information, he said.

“It’s just another request for essentially the same information that’s been given before,” Sellstrom said.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.