Justice Dept. warns sanctuary cities in immigration fight

In this Jan. 25 file photo, a woman holds a sign at a rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco. The Trump administration is moving beyond rhetoric in its effort to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. (AP photo)

By SADIE GURMAN

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration intensified its threats to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, warning nine jurisdictions Friday that they may lose coveted law enforcement grant money unless they document cooperation.

It sent letters to officials in California and major cities including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, all places the Justice Department’s inspector general has identified as limiting the information local law enforcement can provide to federal immigration authorities about those in their custody.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned that the administration will punish communities that refuse to cooperate with efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally. But some of the localities remained defiant, despite risking the loss of funds that police agencies use to pay for everything from body cameras to bulletproof vests.

“We’re not going to cave to these threats,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic said, promising a legal fight if the money is pulled.

Playing off Sessions’ recent comments that sanctuary cities undermine the fight against gangs, the Justice Department said the communities under financial threat are “crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.”

After a raid led to the arrests of 11 MS-13 gang members in California’s Bay Area “city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next,” the department said in a statement.

The federal law in question says state and local governments may not prohibit police or sheriffs from sharing information about a person’s immigration status with federal authorities.

The money could be withheld in the future, or terminated, if local officials fail to prove they are following the law, wrote Alan R. Hanson, acting head of the Office of Justice Programs. The grant program is the leading source of federal justice funding to states and local communities.