U.S. Attorney Duncan's Statement on Sanctuary Jurisdictions

U.S. Dept. of Justice 244x 598

Respecting and enforcing the law, including criminal immigration law, is at the core of the Department of Justice’s mission.  Unfortunately, some state and local jurisdictions are attempting to impede or frustrate the Federal Government’s efforts, by enacting “sanctuary policies.”  The terms “sanctuary city” and “sanctuary jurisdiction” are not proper legal terms and actually have no consensus definitions.  Generally, a jurisdiction is considered to have “sanctuary policies” when the jurisdiction prevents or limits state and local law enforcement from working with their federal partners in some way.  While these policies vary widely in substance and scope, at a minimum, most limit the sharing of certain information between state and local police and federal law enforcement authorities. 

In truth, these “sanctuary” jurisdiction policies are the opposite of what their name suggests. When implemented, they jeopardize public safety by preventing the federal government from locating, arresting, and prosecuting removable aliens inside the United States, including those who have committed criminal offenses.   

To be clear, state and local governments are not compelled by federal law to participate in federal immigration enforcement activities.  That said, they are not permitted to actively obstruct federal efforts either. 

In the Eastern District of Kentucky, we do not have any recognized sanctuary jurisdictions, and only have a very small number of local entities that are uncooperative with federal law enforcement.  Overall, we are fortunate to share extremely strong working relationships with state and local government agencies and our law enforcement partners.  However, the threat to public safety is not limited to jurisdictions with these harmful sanctuary policies.  

One common way these sanctuary jurisdictions intentionally frustrate federal law is by failing to honor an immigration detainer – a formal request issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials asking federal, state, or local law enforcement authorities to simply hold an individual who is already in custody on another violation of criminal law.  The detainer is based on probable cause that an alien is illegally in the country.  ICE issues detainers to give other law enforcement agencies notice that it intends to take custody of the alien within 48 hours, before he or she is released from criminal custody. 

ICE routinely requests detainers so that it can take appropriate action, which might include deportation.  A jurisdiction that refuses to honor a detainer simply releases the individual back onto the streets.  This forces ICE agents to re-arrest the person – a situation that can create a danger to the agents and others.  Moreover, it also causes an unnecessary expenditure of time, manpower, and resources – forcing agents to lawfully re-arrest a person who has just be released from custody.  A jurisdiction that ignores detainers and releases criminal aliens undermines the law and ultimately endangers each of us.         

Our Office remains committed, along with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE, and other agencies, to enforcing and respecting the law.  This includes the prosecution of illegal immigration cases.    

In Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, our Office prosecuted 119 defendants for felony violations of criminal immigration laws, including cases involving defendants who had been previously deported for aggravated felony offenses.  During the same timeframe, we prosecuted 17 defendants charged with being illegal aliens in possession of a firearm. 

Our enforcement efforts also include prosecuting individuals, who are illegally in the United States, with other criminal offenses, such as drug trafficking.  One such example is the prosecution of Fernando Lara Salas, a cooperative effort led by investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), DHS, ICE, and the Lexington Police Department.

Lara Salas was convicted of multiple offenses, at trial in January 2018, including drug trafficking, firearms, and immigration offenses.  His drug trafficking convictions included conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, methamphetamine, and tramadol.  Lara Salas’ firearms convictions included possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and possession of a firearm by an alien.  Lara Salas was also convicted of unlawfully re-entering the United States after previously being deported for a felony drug offense. 

The joint investigation by federal and state law enforcement into the drug trafficking activities of Lara Salas began in August 2016, and culminated with the execution of search warrants at Lara Salas’ residence in Lexington and a cargo trailer located in a remote location in Franklin County. The search of Lara Salas’ home resulted in the seizure of 6 kilograms of cocaine, more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, a 9 mm firearm, and $110,000 in U.S. currency.  Evidence found in the cargo trailer revealed that Lara Salas and others utilized the trailer for the preparation of fentanyl for distribution.  Agents located packaging material consistent with kilogram quantities of controlled substances, and the packaging contained a residual amount of fentanyl – a particularly deadly Schedule II opioid.  Also located in the trailer were five kilograms of tramadol, a Schedule IV controlled substance that is commonly used by drug traffickers as a cutting agent for fentanyl and heroin, and boxes of latex gloves.

Lara Salas had previously been convicted of felony possession of cocaine, in 2014, and deported to Mexico.  He illegally reentered the country after his deportation and resumed his drug trafficking activities.  For his most recent conviction, Lara Salas was sentenced to nearly 30 years in federal prison.  

Lara Salas’ prosecution demonstrates the importance of strong partnerships across local, state, and federal law enforcement. It is imperative that we continue working together to enforce the law.   

Respecting and enforcing the law, including criminal immigration law, is at the core of the Department of Justice’s mission.  Unfortunately, some state and local jurisdictions are attempting to impede or frustrate the Federal Government’s efforts, by enacting “sanctuary policies.”  The terms “sanctuary city” and “sanctuary jurisdiction” are not proper legal terms and actually have no consensus definitions.  Generally, a jurisdiction is considered to have “sanctuary policies” when the jurisdiction prevents or limits state and local law enforcement from working with their federal partners in some way.  While these policies vary widely in substance and scope, at a minimum, most limit the sharing of certain information between state and local police and federal law enforcement authorities. 

In truth, these “sanctuary” jurisdiction policies are the opposite of what their name suggests. When implemented, they jeopardize public safety by preventing the federal government from locating, arresting, and prosecuting removable aliens inside the United States, including those who have committed criminal offenses.   

To be clear, state and local governments are not compelled by federal law to participate in federal immigration enforcement activities.  That said, they are not permitted to actively obstruct federal efforts either. 

In the Eastern District of Kentucky, we do not have any recognized sanctuary jurisdictions, and only have a very small number of local entities that are uncooperative with federal law enforcement.  Overall, we are fortunate to share extremely strong working relationships with state and local government agencies and our law enforcement partners.  However, the threat to public safety is not limited to jurisdictions with these harmful sanctuary policies.  

One common way these sanctuary jurisdictions intentionally frustrate federal law is by failing to honor an immigration detainer – a formal request issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials asking federal, state, or local law enforcement authorities to simply hold an individual who is already in custody on another violation of criminal law.  The detainer is based on probable cause that an alien is illegally in the country.  ICE issues detainers to give other law enforcement agencies notice that it intends to take custody of the alien within 48 hours, before he or she is released from criminal custody. 

ICE routinely requests detainers so that it can take appropriate action, which might include deportation.  A jurisdiction that refuses to honor a detainer simply releases the individual back onto the streets.  This forces ICE agents to re-arrest the person – a situation that can create a danger to the agents and others.  Moreover, it also causes an unnecessary expenditure of time, manpower, and resources – forcing agents to lawfully re-arrest a person who has just be released from custody.  A jurisdiction that ignores detainers and releases criminal aliens undermines the law and ultimately endangers each of us.         

Our Office remains committed, along with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE, and other agencies, to enforcing and respecting the law.  This includes the prosecution of illegal immigration cases.    

In Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, our Office prosecuted 119 defendants for felony violations of criminal immigration laws, including cases involving defendants who had been previously deported for aggravated felony offenses.  During the same timeframe, we prosecuted 17 defendants charged with being illegal aliens in possession of a firearm. 

Our enforcement efforts also include prosecuting individuals, who are illegally in the United States, with other criminal offenses, such as drug trafficking.  One such example is the prosecution of Fernando Lara Salas, a cooperative effort led by investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), DHS, ICE, and the Lexington Police Department.

Lara Salas was convicted of multiple offenses, at trial in January 2018, including drug trafficking, firearms, and immigration offenses.  His drug trafficking convictions included conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, methamphetamine, and tramadol.  Lara Salas’ firearms convictions included possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and possession of a firearm by an alien.  Lara Salas was also convicted of unlawfully re-entering the United States after previously being deported for a felony drug offense. 

The joint investigation by federal and state law enforcement into the drug trafficking activities of Lara Salas began in August 2016, and culminated with the execution of search warrants at Lara Salas’ residence in Lexington and a cargo trailer located in a remote location in Franklin County. The search of Lara Salas’ home resulted in the seizure of 6 kilograms of cocaine, more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, a 9 mm firearm, and $110,000 in U.S. currency.  Evidence found in the cargo trailer revealed that Lara Salas and others utilized the trailer for the preparation of fentanyl for distribution.  Agents located packaging material consistent with kilogram quantities of controlled substances, and the packaging contained a residual amount of fentanyl – a particularly deadly Schedule II opioid.  Also located in the trailer were five kilograms of tramadol, a Schedule IV controlled substance that is commonly used by drug traffickers as a cutting agent for fentanyl and heroin, and boxes of latex gloves.

Lara Salas had previously been convicted of felony possession of cocaine, in 2014, and deported to Mexico.  He illegally reentered the country after his deportation and resumed his drug trafficking activities.  For his most recent conviction, Lara Salas was sentenced to nearly 30 years in federal prison.  

Lara Salas’ prosecution demonstrates the importance of strong partnerships across local, state, and federal law enforcement. It is imperative that we continue working together to enforce the law.   


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