Justice Dep’t Ramps Up Pressure on Sanctuary Cities

Attorney General Jeff Sessions reacts to the audience as he arrives to speak at the Federalist Society 2017 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, about maintaining and strengthening the rule of law. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday ordered 23 cities, counties and states to turn over documents that prove their cooperation with federal immigration authorities, renewing threats to cut funding to so-called sanctuary cities.

“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 in his announcement Wednesday.

Under the threat of subpoenas, the Justice Department ordered California, Illinois, and Oregon to submit documents on all directives, instructions and guidance on whether and how their employees may, or may not, communicate with federal immigration agents.

The same request was made to 20 counties and cities, including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Failure to comply with the request could place those jurisdictions’ eligibility for the $385 million Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program at risk, Sessions said.

The attorney general first announced in July that so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to help federal authorities detain and deport immigrants would no longer be eligible for the grant.

In September 2017, a federal judge in Chicago blocked the new grant requirements, finding Sessions exceeded his authority by requiring jurisdictions to let immigration agents access local jails and give 48 hours’ notice before releasing undocumented immigrants from jail.

The state of California has also challenged the new funding conditions in a separate case in federal court in San Francisco.

In November, a federal judge in San Francisco permanently enjoined one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders, which more broadly authorized the federal government to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

The state of California and city of San Francisco say their policies fully comply with federal law, which only requires that state and local governments not prohibit employees from disclosing an individual’s immigration status to federal agents upon request.

In October, California’s governor signed a package of sanctuary-state bills called the Values Act into law, establishing safe zones around schools, courts and hospitals, and limiting state and local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Cities and states that have adopted sanctuary policies argue they make communities safer because undocumented immigrants are not afraid to report crimes or cooperate with police due to fear of deportation. Sessions argues the policies make communities less safe by protecting undocumented criminals.

“When cities like Philadelphia, Boston or San Francisco advertise that they have these policies, the criminals take notice,” Sessions said at speech to law enforcement officers in Las Vegas in July 2017. “These jurisdictions are protecting criminals that under the law should be deported.”

California stands to lose $31 million in funding if the federal government cuts off its criminal justice grant funding. The city of San Francisco would lose $1.4 million.

In an emailed statement, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the city received the Justice Department’s letter and is reviewing the request. He said the city is in full compliance with federal immigration law and that it would continue to seek federal grant funding.

“San Francisco prioritizes using our limited law enforcement resources to actually fight crime, not break up hardworking families,” Herrera said. “We leave it to the federal government to enforce immigration law, and we are going to continue to apply for federal grants that we are eligible for.”

A California Department of Justice spokesperson said the state complies with federal immigration law and “fully expects to prevail” in pending litigation over the Justice Department’s “overbroad interpretation of the law.”

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