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National

Oklahoma City Mayor On Meeting With DHS And 'Sanctuary Cities'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a warning to cities across the country this week - cooperate with federal authorities in finding and deporting immigrants here illegally or get cut off from federal money for law enforcement. In a statement, Sessions listed off a number of violent crimes committed by people in the country illegally.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JEFF SESSIONS: Countless Americans would be alive today and countless loved ones would not be grieving today if these policies of sanctuary cities were ended.

MARTIN: Immigration and Customs Enforcement identifies 118 jurisdictions as sanctuary cities. On Wednesday, the city of Seattle filed suit against the Trump administration, calling the new policy unconstitutional and, quote, "fatally ambiguous." Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met with a group of mayors this week to explain the new immigration rules. Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City was there. He's a Republican and currently the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Mayor.

MICK CORNETT: Good morning.

MARTIN: When you were here in Washington, D.C., you were at this meeting with Secretary Kelly. What was the secretary's message to you and the other mayors?

CORNETT: I think Secretary Kelly was largely supportive of the policies that are already in place in America's cities.

MARTIN: What does that mean? Because some of these cities, as you know, have identified as sanctuary cities, which means they're not necessarily enforcing these federal laws.

CORNETT: I don't know that mayors understand what the term sanctuary cities means. The term sanctuary city is a political buzz term. But it doesn't play out in the reality when you look at the way police departments conduct their offices.

MARTIN: So let's talk about that then. What is your understanding of what a sanctuary city is?

CORNETT: I have no idea.

MARTIN: Did Secretary Kelly provide any clarity on what it means to be a sanctuary city? Because in the public discourse, the perception of a sanctuary city is a municipality that is turning a blind eye to people who are living there illegally.

CORNETT: Yeah. Well, I don't know of any city that's turning a blind eye. If you're suggesting that people are being rounded up and sent back to their native country, I don't know of any city that's doing that. If people are arrested and there's a violent crime, then they are turned into ICE officials, and that person is sentenced or sent back to their country of origin.

But in general, you know, the police chiefs of America don't have any interest in creating an uninviting culture with any neighborhoods in their cities. You know, we need people to report crimes. We need, you know, relationships to be able to provide safe streets and safe neighborhoods in our own communities. So, you know, we're trying to make sure that we have lines of communication open and people can trust the police.

MARTIN: What did you want to communicate to Secretary Kelly in that meeting?

CORNETT: Well, we were hoping to get some clarification on his - from his office on what their stance was on undocumented citizens. And we were to an extent pleased that it seemed to be in alignment with what was already going on.

Now, your intro did talk about Attorney General Sessions implying a much more aggressive stance. I haven't seen that play out myself. I have heard of that taking place in Texas, for instance, but we've seen none of it here. And I would suspect that in 99 percent of the jurisdictions around the country, that hasn't happened yet.

MARTIN: So you haven't been warned that unless you change your policies in Oklahoma City, you would no longer get federal funding for law enforcement?

CORNETT: Well, we've heard that said. But I don't know that we've officially been warned or that the police chief has received any information from the federal government that would imply that.

MARTIN: So you say you were looking for clarity from Secretary Kelly about what a sanctuary city is and what that new policy means. Did you get that clarity?

CORNETT: No, he doesn't know, either. I don't think any of us use the term sanctuary city or even understand what it means. I'm just telling you that the policies around America are pretty much the same from one jurisdiction to another.

MARTIN: Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, thank you so much for talking with us.

CORNETT: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.