Department of Justice Steps Up Pressure on Sanctuary Cities

The department is demanding proof communities, states are complying with immigration laws

The U.S. Justice Department stepped up pressure on so-called sanctuary cities on Wednesday, demanding that 23 communities prove that they are abiding by federal laws regarding undocumented immigrants if they want to continue to receive grants to fight crime.

The department is seeking documents showing cooperation with federation immigration agents from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, among other cities, several counties including Cook County in Illinois and Sacramento, San Francisco and Sonoma counties in California and the entire states of California, Illinois and Oregon.

The department is asking for documentation that police and sheriff’s deputies are sharing information with federal immigration agents, specifically when asked for information about undocumented migrants in local jails.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted his response: “I will NOT be attending today’s meeting at the White House after @realDonaldTrump’s Department of Justice decided to renew their racist assault on our immigrant communities. It doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors was to have met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. The organization formally canceled the meeting in response to the Justice Department's action, though some of the mayors, in Washington DC for their annual meeting, did meet with the president.

“Many mayors of both parties were looking forward to visiting the White House today to speak about infrastructure and other issues of pressing importance to the 82 percent of Americans who call cities home,” said the group's president, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s decision to threaten mayors and demonize immigrants yet again – and use cities as political props in the process – has made this meeting untenable.”

Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Kentucky, another targeted city, said in statement that before accusations were made, he expected “a basic level” of evidence from the Justice Department, which it did not provide. Louisville is both in compliance with federal law and a welcoming city, he said.

“Picking fights for political reasons is a disservice to all Louisvillians, Kentuckians and Americans,” Fischer said.

If the communities do not respond, the government would issue subpoenas ordering them to comply, a Justice Department official told NBC News.

“I continue to urge all jurisdictions under review to reconsider policies that place the safety of their communities and their residents at risk,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

The escalation was announced Wednesday morning on the Fox News’ show, "Fox and Friends," by Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

“We are sending them a document request and if they don’t answer that, we’re sending them a subpoena,” she said.”

The 23 communities were notified earlier that the Justice Department thought they might not be cooperating. If they are found to be out of compliance, they will not be awarded new grants and might be required to return money they received earlier, according to the letters.

The department has repeatedly threatened to deny millions of dollars in important grant money from communities that refuse to share such information with federal authorities, as part of the Trump administration's promised crackdown on cities and states that refuse to help enforce U.S. immigration laws.

Many cities have been openly defiant in the face of the threats, with lawsuits pending in Chicago, Philadelphia and California over whether the administration has overstepped its authority by seeking to withhold grant money.

The Justice Department first warned local governments during the Obama administration that they must allow their law enforcement officers to give information to immigration authorities.

--The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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