PORTLAND, Ore. – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions denounced sanctuary cities during a speech to federal and local law enforcement officials in Portland on Tuesday.
Hundreds of protesters gathered hours before Sessions' arrival at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Portland Field Office in the Pearl District. They represented immigration groups, construction trades and Portland citizens outraged by the administration’s approach to immigration.
Chants begin in NW Portland--waiting for Sessions.Posted by Pat Dooris (KGW-TV) on Tuesday, September 19, 2017
"We are in the midst of a multi-front battle: an increase in violent crime, a rise in vicious gang activity, an opioid epidemic that it is taking an American life every ten minutes, and threats from terrorism -- combined with a culture in which family and discipline seem to be eroding further and a disturbing disrespect for the rule of law," Sessions said.
He referenced the cases of Jose Morales, who was shot and killed in Southeast Portland in July, and Shawn Scott, Jr., who was fatally shot during a robbery at Portland's Holladay Park in April, as examples of what he called rising violent crime in Portland.
Sessions argued that in order to reduce violent crime in America, cities like Portland must drop sanctuary policies. Mayor Ted Wheeler has proclaimed Portland a sanctuary city.
"Such policies undermine the moral authority of law and undermine the safety of the jurisdictions that adopt them," he said.
Sessions referred to the case of Sergio Martinez, who was accused of attacking two women in Portland last July. Martinez, a transient, had previously been deported from the U.S. 20 times, according to court records.
"Federal immigration authorities properly lodged a detainer against Martinez just a few months before, asking to be notified when he was set to be released. But authorities in Oregon refused," said Sessions.
In a statement following the arrest of Martinez, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said the sheriff's office couldn't hold Martinez any longer because ICE processed a civil detainer and not a criminal warrant signed by a judge, "which they know cannot be legally used in Oregon," Reese said. The sheriff's office followed state statute and federal case law in handling the suspect, Reese said, but had to release him "consistent with the orders of the court."
Sessions called the policies of sanctuary cities "lawless," and said they do more to shield "criminal illegal aliens."
"That makes a sanctuary city a trafficker, smuggler, or gang member’s best friend," he said.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said the city of Portland does not "appreciate" Sessions' stance on sanctuary cities. Wheeler did not meet with Sessions and instead had a letter hand delivered.
Photos: Protesters gather for Jeff Sessions Portland visit
Sessions is the second member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to visit Portland. Linda McMahon, the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and former CEO of World Wresting Entertainment, visited Portland in July.
As attorney general, Sessions has repeatedly urged sanctuary cities to enforce federal immigration laws, or potentially lose federal funding. In March, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called Sessions’ stance “wrongheaded.”
A federal judge in Chicago blocked the Trump administration’s effort to withhold federal funds for public safety from sanctuary cities.
Sessions has also hinted at a crackdown on states that have legalized marijuana in defiance of federal law, such as Oregon. Multiple times this year, Gov. Kate Brown has defended the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana. In a letter she wrote to Sessions earlier this year, she said Oregon's medical and recreational marijuana industry has raised over $60.2 million in revenue and created over 16,000 jobs.