Sanctuary Cities Face Aid Cuts as Justice Dept. Tightens Screws
The Trump administration escalated its confrontation with so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, threatening them anew Friday with the loss of grant money if they do not remove certain barriers.
The Justice Department sent letters to officials in New York City, Philadelphia, California and other places singled out last year by the agency’s inspector general for regulations that interfere with the ability of police or sheriffs to communicate with federal immigration authorities about the status of prisoners in their custody.
“Many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime,” the Justice Department said in a news release.
The agency cited the rising murder rate in Chicago and cast blame for gang murders in New York on what it labeled a “soft on crime” stance. It also complained that after the recent arrests of 11 members of the MS-13 Salvadoran street gang, the deputy police chief of Santa Cruz, Calif., stressed that the raid was unrelated to immigration instead of “warning other MS-13 members that they would be next.”
President Trump ran on a platform of cracking down on illegal immigration and issued an executive order during his first week in office aimed at jump-starting that process. Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned that recipients of federal law enforcement grants were required to comply with a 1996 law that bars the local authorities from forcing officials to withhold information from federal immigration authorities about people’s immigration status.
The recipients of the letters were warned that as a condition of receiving 2016 grants, they must certify by June 30 that they were in compliance with the law. That enforced a deadline on a policy put in place under the Obama administration, which announced the policy last July but gave cities not in compliance time to adjust.
After Mr. Sessions’s remarks, several municipal leaders vowed defiance; Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said he would fight in court any attempt to strip funding from the city.
On Friday, Nisha Agarwal, the commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs in New York, said the city was prepared to respond by the June 30 deadline. She declined to say what the city would tell the government.
In California, where Democrats have waged a defiant opposition to the Trump administration, the State Senate leader, Kevin de León of Los Angeles, charged that it was basing its law enforcement policies “on principles of white supremacy — not American values.”
Mr. de Blasio and other top New York officials also batted back against the “soft on crime” label in the Justice Department’s statement.
“We did not become the safest big city in America by being ‘soft on crime,’” Mr. de Blasio said, standing with the city’s police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, both stone-faced, in Police Headquarters. “This is an insult, this statement.”
New York City is at or near historic lows in most areas of major crime, from murder to auto theft.
The Justice Department doubled down after Mr. de Blasio’s comments, repeating its “soft on crime” description. That prompted Preet Bharara, the former United States attorney for New York’s Southern District, to question why the Justice Department “would ignorantly malign” the New York Police Department. “That makes no one safer,” Mr. Bharara said on Twitter.
The dollar amounts for the grants in question are relatively small compared with the overall budgets of governments that received the letters. For example, according to the Justice Department, the City of New York received a $4.3 million grant in 2016.
Other places sent a letter included the State of California, which received $10.4 million, divvied up among 128 cities and counties; Chicago and its county, Cook, shared a $2.3 million grant; New Orleans, $265,832; Las Vegas’s Clark County, $11,537; Miami-Dade County, $481,347; Milwaukee County, $937,932; and Philadelphia, $1.7 million. Each letter was signed by Alan R. Hanson, the acting director of the Office of Justice Programs, which administers the Byrne law enforcement grant program.
“Failure to comply with this condition could result in the withholding of grant funds, suspension or termination of the grant, ineligibility for future O.J.P. grants or subgrants, or other action, as appropriate,” Mr. Hanson wrote.
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