In an interview earlier this week on CNN’s morning program “New Day,” co-host Chris Cuomo discussed a number of topics with Trump Organization executive vice president Michael Cohen — Mexico, apologies, the media, for instance. An exchange over so-called “sanctuary cities,” however, animated Cuomo’s critics.
In crediting his boss, Donald Trump, for starting a debate about immigration, Cohen noted that he’d raised awareness on this topic:
COHEN: These sanctuaries on the border that allow illegals to stay and if, in fact, they end up getting caught, they cannot be forced …
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You are talking about sanctuary cities that exist all over the country?
COHEN: That’s correct.
CUOMO: That’s a misnomer. Those are cities that are in dispute with ICE about how you deal with people that they’re holding.
COHEN: They are part of the United States you can’t be in dispute with the federal government.
CUOMO: But they’re not safe havens, the way you are describing.
COHEN: They most certainly are safe havens.
Breitbart’s John Nolte responded with nouns: “Cuomo is both a liar and a charlatan,” wrote Nolte. Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly last night responded with requests: “He should certainly rethink his sympathies.” And this morning “Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy responded with mockeries: “If you want a real news channel, you turn over to CNN — the Cuomo News Network…” After playing the chat between Cuomo and Cohen, Doocy circled back to the theme: “So that’s what you get on the real news channel, over there.” Context for the controversy, of course, comes from the killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant — Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez — who was released from custody in San Francisco. Federal authorities were prepared to deport Lopez-Sanchez but didn’t receive a heads-up from San Francisco, which has a sanctuary ordinance regulating cooperation with immigration officials.
On this morning’s edition of “New Day,” Cuomo responded to the criticism, not with a Facebook post or a tweet, but with an interview. John Torres, a former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told Cuomo this about the evolution of the so-called “sanctuary cities”: “Well, some of the local jurisdictions wanted people with no status to come forward to be able to report crimes,” he said. “And, so, that’s understandable if you have someone who’s afraid to report a domestic violence crime, for example, or someone who’s afraid to report a murder even because they have no status. There’s a fear in the community that they’re going to be turned over for deportation. So that’s really how — how they started.” Though Cuomo was coding the interview to answer his critics, Torres did agree that undocumented immigrants aren’t beyond the reach of deportation in these localities:
CUOMO: The critics really came up with the moniker of sanctuary city. Do you think that is a fair definition, meaning that any undocumented or illegal immigrant in a sanctuary city doesn’t have to fear any type of detection, any type of law action against them?
TORRES: Well, from the aspect of perception, if the perception is that you have no fear, then, you know, we’ve heard this a million times, then the perception becomes the reality.
CUOMO: But — but in your practice of what they do in these jurisdictions, is it a free pass?
TORRES: No, it is not a free pass. There are a number of people that get transferred over to ICE from different jurisdictions.
In concluding the segment, Cuomo verily looked O’Reilly, Nolte, et al. in the eyes: “All right. I appreciate this, Mr. Torres, because you did the job and you say you have mixed feelings about sanctuary cities, but it’s complex. And too many on the partisan sides of politics want to make it simple for their own purposes.”
In an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, Cuomo said of Breitbart: “I don’t know what that outlet has become, but you know how the business is: The meaner it is, the higher the form of flattery. … If you can’t argue the facts, you attack.” And of O’Reilly: “I think that Bill O’Reilly is a pretty known quantity who speaks his mind and then people decide whether they like it or not.”
A very complicating consideration for Cuomo is the testimony of Lopez-Sanchez himself, who has said “he knew San Francisco was a sanctuary city where he would not be pursued by immigration officials,” according to a jailhouse interview. Isn’t the accused a good authority on this matter? Not particularly, says Cuomo: “Citing the killer as a source on whether or not sanctuary cities are safe havens is a little curious. I would prefer to hear from an acting former director of ICE about what sanctuary cities represent.”
Based on how Fox News, Breitbart and certain other outlets frame the issue, argues Cuomo, sanctuary cities are just “safe havens” that are “soft on immigration” — and upon those buzz-terms piles a whole mound of innuendo. “In the safe haven thing, the suggestion is that anything that an undocumented immigrant does is okay. There’s a further implication that somehow Sanchez was empowered by San Francisco to become a murderer. That is the concern — the danger of generalizing and misrepresenting the situation. It sounds like this is license to kill for immigrants.
“To say that they’re completely safe havens is a loaded statement that has a potential political motivation and is not entirely accurate. And that’s why we do our job that way instead of causing confusion,” says Cuomo, referring to “New Day’s” decision to bring in a former ICE official to hash out the complexities of cities with sanctuary laws.
Another flurry of slam-blogging hit Cuomo back in May, when the journalist-cum-lawyer tweeted that “hate speech is excluded from [First Amendment] protection.” That was a mistake, says Cuomo, who said that he was dictating his tweets at the time. “Look at the tweets before it and after it,” he says.
“It’s not easy to go up against people in the media right now because you have outlets that say the worst things about you … with impunity,” he says. “I think that cable should be held to a higher standard than that.”