U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) led lawmakers in pressing federal law enforcement officials on whether so-called "sanctuary city" policies are “inhibiting efforts by federal law enforcement to protect our communities from human trafficking, drug trafficking, and other gang-related criminal activity.” In a letter, joined by Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), addressed to officials who testified recently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the senators sought more information on these “sanctuary city” policies’ role in hampering cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement.

“MS-13 thugs can’t get a free pass,” said Sasse. “These gangs, drug runners, and human traffickers threaten our communities and we should all be troubled when law enforcement can’t do their jobs effectively. Our policies shouldn’t operate as a shield to protect the most dangerous criminals.”

Text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Messrs. Albence and Blanco,

            Thank you for your recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary at the hearing entitled “The MS-13 Problem: Investigating Gang Membership, its Nexus to Illegal Immigration, and Federal Efforts to End the Threat.” During that hearing, troubling information came to light about so-called “sanctuary city” policies inhibiting efforts by federal law enforcement to protect our communities from human trafficking, drug trafficking, and other gang-related criminal activity. We write to you today to express serious concern about this matter and to follow up in an effort to illuminate the situation further.

In response to questioning by Sen. Kennedy, Mr. Albence testified:

There are some major cities in this country where I can’t even send my officers to go into the jail to interview someone that’s been arrested for a gang activity or is a known gang member, and we can’t go in there and identify that person and take an enforcement action against them.[1]

On this topic of MS-13 members detained in sanctuary jurisdictions, he further stated:

[I]n many cases, we know who these individuals are, we have biometric identifiers. They’ve been arrested by the Border Patrol, they’ve been or been arrested by ICE previously and removed and have reentered the country unlawfully. We know who they are. We know they’re gang members. We know they’re criminals, but if the county or the city does not allow us to get into the jail to make that final determination to process that individual for removal and take custody of that person, then they’re released back into the community to re-victimize.[2]

He continued:

We’re not asking the state or local agency to do anything besides give us access and transfer that individual to our custody at the completion of their criminal process so we can have a safe orderly transfer and then remove them from the country or prosecute them as accordingly.[3]

           Moreover, in response to questioning on the extent to which “that lack of access hamper your broader investigations to go after the criminal enterprise,”[4] Mr. Blanco described the effect in the following way: “[O]ur investigation is based on information that we receive, and if we’re unable to receive information, then it hurts our investigations, both locally, domestically, and internationally, so it does affect.”[5]

            Simply put, these disclosures should disturb every single law-abiding American, regardless of their views on immigration issues more broadly. Proponents of sanctuary-city policies have long advocated for these policies on the basis that they enhance public safety by facilitating cooperation between law enforcement and both legal and illegal aliens that would otherwise be hesitant to “report criminal activity or assist police in criminal investigations.”[6]Whatever one’s views of the merits of these arguments, public safety is reduced—not enhanced—when sanctuary policies operate as a shield to frustrate federal authorities’ efforts to prosecute or remove dangerous criminals. This effect is further amplified in situations involving members of gangs such as MS-13, an organization designated as a Transnational Criminal Organization by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for its involvement in “serious transnational criminal activities, including drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, assassinations, racketeering, blackmail, extortion, and immigration offenses.”[7] As noted in the hearing testimony, this situation endangers our communities not only because of the threat posed by the released individual that would otherwise be subject to prosecution or removal by federal authorities, but also because of the lost opportunity to frustrate the illicit activities of the associated criminal organization. 

            To illuminate the extent of this very serious problem, please answer the following questions:

  1. To the best of your knowledge, how many times since 2007 have Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal law enforcement authorities been denied access to an actual or suspected illegal alien in the custody of state or local authorities in sanctuary jurisdictions when there is substantial evidence that the detainee in question has engaged in human trafficking, drug trafficking, or other gang-related criminal activities?
  2. To the best of your knowledge in these instances, what statutes, ordinances, enforcement policies, and the like did the state or local authorities in question rely upon as the basis for their failure to cooperate with federal authorities?  
  3. In which jurisdictions did these denials occur?
  4. Which state and local jurisdictions’ sanctuary policies have or could be reasonably construed to deny access to such detainees?

            Please respond to these questions within 30 days of submission or provide a reasonable explanation for any delay accompanied by an expected timeline of compliance. If you have any questions, please contact our staff at (202) 224-4224, (202) 224-4623, and (202) 224-6342. We fully respect the need to protect ongoing investigations and other sensitive law enforcement activities and are willing to work with you to ensure that your answers do not compromise any such interests.



Ben Sasse
United States Senator 


John Kennedy
United States Senator


Thom Tillis
United States Senator


[1] The MS-13 Problem: Investigating Gang Membership, its Nexus to Illegal Immigration, and Federal Efforts to End the Threat: Hearing Before the Senate Comm. On the Judiciary, 115th Cong. (2017), https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/the-ms-13-problem-investigating-gang-membership-its-nexus-to-illegal-immigration-and-federal-efforts-to-end-the-threat (statement of Matthew T. Albence).

[2] Id. 

[3] Id.

[4] Id. (statement of Senator Tillis).

[5] Id. (statement of Kenneth A. Blanco).

[6] See, e.g., International Association of Chiefs of Police, Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State, Tribal and Local Law Enforcement 1 (2004), http://www.theiacp.org/portals/0/pdfs/publications/immigrationenforcementconf.pdf.

[7] Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, Treasury Sanctions Latin American Criminal Organization (Oct. 11, 2012), https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1733.aspx.