WikipediaAttorney General Loretta Lynch stunned Congress on Wednesday when she declared that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is proposing to take a new, more active role detaining illegal aliens who have been arrested for crimes.

The move seems to target the more than 300 state and local jurisdictions that give sanctuary to illegal alien criminals and refuse to cooperate with federal authorities. ICE will now be able to intervene in individual cases and deport suspected wrongdoers even before some state cases are tried.

“Particularly where we’re dealing with a jurisdiction that is not prone to honoring ICE detainers…our policy is going to be that ICE will instead have the first detainer and that individual will go into ICE custody and deportation,” Lynch told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies during a budget hearing.

In a letter from the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Justice to John A. Culberson, chairman of the subcommittee, the department stated that it would “potentially seek criminal or civil enforcement options” against any entity that receives federal funds to defray the costs of detaining illegal aliens and refuses to cooperate with ICE.

Riddled with tentative language, it also stated that Justice is “actively considering ways in which we may most effectively carry out our public safety mission as it regards to enforcing the nation’s criminal and immigration laws.”

As FAIR notes in its line-by-line analysis of the document, though, Justice responded to Culberson’s threat to use his budget authority if the department refused to take steps to crack down on sanctuary cities, thus the apparent about face on the issue. However, the carefully worded letter leaves DOJ with virtually unlimited discretion to ignore local sanctuary policies that impede immigration enforcement. The likely end result is that the administration’s policy will remain much the same as it has been for the past seven years and will take no action against sanctuary jurisdictions.

Though welcome, if actually implemented, this new policy will have a limited impact for another key reason: the border is not secured, so many perpetrators may return to the United States. And, they will have one less conviction on their record.

“This may have the effect that there may be local cases that may not be able to be prosecuted because . . . the person will be taken into ICE custody and then deported,” said Lynch.

As outlined in the letter, the program applies to federal inmates under the control of the Bureau of Prisons, which will be able to hand illegal criminals over to ICE for deportation rather than release them to a state or municipality with sanctuary policies, if, indeed, ICE decides to detain the individual. The Obama administration is limiting its enforcement efforts to the worst offenders, so it is possible that ICE will rarely take advantage of this right of first refusal.

Obviously, when cities and counties put the rights of illegal alien criminals over those of American citizens and the federal government does nothing about it, everyone is at risk. Fixing the sanctuary city problem is long overdue, but this alleged new tack by the Justice Department only treats half of the problem because it fails to address a national disgrace: the fact that our borders are still insecure 15 years after 9-11.