Politics

Mayor Greg Fischer met with White House officials in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, even as Democratic mayors from across the country backed out of the meeting over a Justice Department request for documents from so-called “sanctuary cities.”

The meeting Wednesday afternoon was to focus on opioids and infrastructure, multiple media reports said. But following a Justice Department call for records from 23 cities and states, several mayors — who are in Washington for a three-day annual mayors conference — decided not to attend.

CNN reports Democrats including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and “a host of other mayors” joined the boycott because of the DOJ’s crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, also a Democrat, tweeted he wouldn’t attend, and Republican Elizabeth Kautz, the mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota, also declined the invitation.

Louisville was among the 23 jurisdictions to receive the Justice Department’s request. The letter asked for additional documents related to whether local law enforcement agencies are illegally keeping information from U.S. immigration authorities.

De Blasio of New York and Hancock of Denver also received the DOJ letter, according to CNN, which prompted their boycott.

Earlier in the afternoon, Fischer told WFPL he did not know yet whether he would attend the meeting. He addressed his decision to attend the meeting in a prepared statement Wednesday evening.

He said he used the opportunity to tell White House officials that Louisville complies with federal law, to provide documentation proving that and to discuss Louisville’s sewer infrastructure needs.

“My visit to the White House today reinforced my long-held belief that our country does best when people stop shouting at one another and start talking with each other,” he said in the statement. ” I will continue to do that with a spirit of growth and opportunity for all.”

Fischer has publicly commented several times on the value he believes immigrants bring to Louisville’s community, and last year joined a coalition supporting ‘Dreamers,’ or people who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Fischer’s spokeswoman confirmed his attendance at the 3 p.m. meeting Wednesday around 2 p.m. She provided the following statement in response to the Department of Justice letter, but declined further comment.

“The Jefferson County Attorney provided the U.S. Department of Justice with a response to its questions about the new city ordinance in December, and received no feedback until moments ago, when the letter from the DOJ arrived. Before accusations are made, we expect a basic level of evidence, which the DOJ has not provided.

“As outlined in the county attorney’s original letter, Louisville is both in compliance with the federal law and a welcoming city. We will provide the additional documents sought; a subpoena is an unnecessary threat. Picking fights for political reasons is a disservice to all Louisvillians, Kentuckians and Americans.”

In November, the Department of Justice challenged Louisville to prove it is not a sanctuary city following a new Louisville Metro Council ordinance regulating when public safety officials can assist federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Metro Council President David James said the city will turn over the requested documents to the Justice Department and looks forward “to answering any and all questions.”

“We fully plan to share all information connected with this ordinance with federal officials as well as explain our reasons as to why it is necessary for our community,” James’ statement read. “We stand by our separation ordinance because it does not restrict any current laws laid out for how cities are to work with federal law enforcement in dealing with immigration.

“This is a question of safety for our city. It is unfortunate that at a time when immigration is such a high profile issue, the federal government continues to try and divide not only our nation, but now our cities. We will not let fear guide us in what is fair for all of our residents.”

Fischer has shied away from using the term “sanctuary city” to describe Louisville, instead telling WFPL in November that he wants to be a “welcoming, global city.” Louisville receives federal grant money for police equipment that could be taken away if it is deemed a sanctuary city.

“To me, you can both be in compliance with federal law, be in compliance with local law through LMPD and be a great city for immigrants and refugees, and I think Louisville fills the bill on all three of those,” Fischer told WFPL during a year-end interview in December.

This story has been updated.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.