Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said Wednesday that he'll seek re-election. That was the easy part of his visit to Washington.
Next came the hard stuff: Trying to figure out just what the Trump administration means when it says it will crack down on so-called sanctuary cities.
Benjamin was in the nation’s capital to lobby on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He’s the conference’s vice president.
Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast at a Washington hotel, Benjamin said he'll seek a third term as mayor and will make a formal announcement in the next few weeks.
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On immigration, President Donald Trump has opposed sanctuary cities, places that refuse to cooperate, or limit cooperation, with U.S. immigration authorities.
Large cities including New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia are sanctuary cities. So are some smaller cities such as Columbia, with a population of more than 130,000.
Benjamin and other mayors said the administration is seeking to punish the cities by withholding federal money without providing a clear definition of what constitutes a sanctuary city.
“To this day, we still don’t have that clarity,” said Benjamin, a Democrat. “When the administration is able to tell all of us exactly what it means to be a sanctuary city – if it means we’re going to treat people with dignity and respect, if it means we make sure our officers have the resources to do the job they’re supposed to be doing every day and taking those violent criminals off the street, we’re going to do that.
“But we need to make sure that we have some clarity from the administration that we have not received,” he said.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors website states mayors, in partnership with their police chiefs, “have strong reservations about any efforts, either through executive action or legislation, to deny federal funds to cities that aim to build trusting and supportive relations with immigrant communities.”
Trump issued an executive order Jan. 25 that would have denied federal grants to cities and other local governments that don’t provide assistance to federal authorities in locating and detaining undocumented immigrants.
A federal district court judge in California blocked enforcement of part of the order in April. The judge refused to lift his injunction last month.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions ratcheted up the pressure on sanctuary cities last week, announcing they could lose millions of dollars in law enforcement grants if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials.
“These policies encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law,” Sessions said.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the conference of mayors president, disagreed with Sessions. He said Wednesday he’s not aware of any police department “that releases violent criminals on the streets of America, irrespective of immigration status.”