Attorney General Jeff Sessions is cracking down on cities that he believes are not cooperating with federal immigration authorities, and threatening to withhold crucial funds the cities need to combat crimes and gun violence, according to McClatchy.
In letters sent to Baltimore, Albuquerque, N.M.; and Stockton and San Bernardino, Calif. — cities that are "struggling with gun violence" — the Justice Department informed them "they would not be eligible for a program that provides money to combat drug trafficking and gang crime unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and notify agents before releasing inmates wanted on immigration violations," McClatchy reported. None of these cities have declared themselves a "sanctuary city," and some were shocked as to why they had been targeted.
"By taking simple, common-sense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement," Sessions said in a statement that was included with the letters, according to McClatchy. "That will ultimately make all of us safer — especially law enforcement on our streets."
McClatchy elaborated on the Justice Departments actions:
The threat marks Sessions' latest effort to force local authorities to help federal agents detain and deport people living in the country illegally as part of a push to reduce crime he believes is linked to illegal immigration. The attorney general has repeatedly vowed to withhold federal money from cities that do not cooperate, similar to how previous administrations have held back highway funds during debates over the speed limit and drinking age.
Cities must prove they will cooperate by Aug. 18. But some city leaders believe "the best way to fight crime and build community trust is to keep local police out of federal immigration matters," McClatchy reported.
"Baltimore is a welcoming city. We do not enforce federal immigration laws," Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said, according to Reuters.
Cities also have pointed out that the police who often "patrol the streets book suspects into jails run by county or state authorities over which they have no control. The Justice Department's letters focus on giving federal immigration agents access to such detention facilities," McClatchy reported.
"The city of San Bernardino has never taken any formal act to declare itself a sanctuary city," San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said. "Our policies have been very, very consistent over the years."
"That does not mean we don't work with our other federal partners, but that is just not a function of ours," he added, according to McClatchy.
The efforts represents a broader message from President Donald Trump's that made immigration a crucial issue on his campaign. This week the president endorsed a bill that would slash legal immigration by more than half, limit the number of refugees allowed in the country annually and establish a merit-based system for migrants in which speaking English and having certain skills would reward them.
The number of arrests of immigrants who have not committed a crime has skyrocketed under his administration, and Sessions has repeatedly targeted so-called sanctuary cities and threatened to withhold "millions of dollars in federal grants unless they began cooperating with immigration agents," according to the New York Times.
"This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states," Sessions said last week. "These long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer."