ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions vented today at leaders of so-called sanctuary cities. There is no formal definition for that term, but we're talking about places that routinely refuse to help federal authorities deport people who are in the country illegally. Sessions singled out Chicago in particular for criticism.
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JEFF SESSIONS: For the sake of the city, Chicago's leaders need to recommit to policies that punish criminals instead of protecting them. They need to protect their citizens and not the criminals.
SIEGEL: Sessions was talking about Chicago, but he was not in Chicago. He was in Miami speaking to law enforcement officers there. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now to explain why. OK, why did Attorney General Sessions go to Miami to criticize Chicago, Greg?
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, Robert, it goes back to January. Even before President Trump took office he threatened to cut off federal funding to these so-called sanctuary communities. And Miami-Dade County's mayor decided that was his cue to change a longstanding county policy. Now Miami-Dade County holds inmates who have immigration detainer orders on them, holds them for DHS, for ICE to go ahead and deport. And they've done that. And because of that, Sessions today said that Miami-Dade County would get all the law enforcement grant money they were promised, some $500,000.
SIEGEL: Now, Miami is a city with big and politically active immigrant communities. How has the county's policy change gone over with the people there?
ALLEN: Well, there was a protest today outside of the port where the Attorney General Sessions spoke. And this - there had been protests regularly about this. But it's, you know, basically gone over. And the people who are immigrant advocates fight about it and are trying to take action about it.
But the Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Gimenez, is in a nonpartisan post. He's a Republican. He's been friendly with the Trump administration. His son worked for Trump as a local lobbyist for a time. So he's been kind of in the middle on this. He condemned - Gimenez condemned Trump's recent comments on Charlottesville, but he left today without talking to reporters. So he's kind of in a difficult position. He usually is very reporter friendly.
SIEGEL: And I want you to talk about this criticism of Chicago today - why?
ALLEN: Well, I think it goes back - even during the campaign you'll recall when Donald Trump was talking about Chicago's high murder rates, that he'd send in the federal authorities. He's talked about the National Guard. Some of that might have to do with the Mayor Rahm Emanuel's former position with the Obama administration, you know, where he was chief of staff.
Last week, Chicago has fired back against the Trump administration, filed a lawsuit against them for threatening to withhold funding over this issue. And then following the attorney general's comments today, we heard from Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. He said the city's going to stand up proudly as a welcoming city and not cave in to the Trump administration's pressure.
But here's a quote that he had from his statement - in a week in which the Trump administration is being forced to answer questions about neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK, they could not have picked a worse time to resume their attack on the immigrants who see America as a beacon of hope.
SIEGEL: Sessions spoke about Charlottesville. Did he address President Trump's comments that both sides were to blame for the violence?
ALLEN: He didn't really mention the president or his comments about that. He did have something to say. Here's a little tape of what he had to say about Charlottesville.
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SESSIONS: We cannot - and in no way can we accept, apologize for racism, bigotry, hatred, violence and those kind of things that too often arise in our country.
ALLEN: And then he left today without speaking to reporters. In an NBC interview today, Sessions did say that the car attack in Charlottesville could be possibly prosecuted as a hate crime, but he said it's too soon to say whether that's going to happen or not.
SIEGEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami, thanks.
ALLEN: Welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.