The Justice Department ramped up its fight with so-called sanctuary cities just as the White House hosted a group of municipal executives from around the country, leading to a boycott by several Democratic mayors.
The Department of Justice sent a letter to 23 jurisdictions across the United States on Wednesday – including the three largest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – accusing them of potentially violating federal law and threatening subpoenas. It demanded records "that could show whether each jurisdiction is unlawfully restricting information sharing by its law enforcement officers with federal immigration authorities."
As a result of the threats, Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio abruptly canceled Wednesday's meeting with President Donald Trump in which he would join over 100 mayors from across the country to discuss plans about infrastructure.
Other Democratic mayors, like New Orleans' Mitch Landrieu, also declined to attend Wednesday's event at the White House, citing the administration's targeting of sanctuary cities.
When Trump noticed their absence, according to pool reports, he lashed out.
"Remember I used to say, 'What do you have to lose?'" Trump asked. "And people said, 'I don't know if that's a nice thing to say. I said, 'Of course, it is. For 100 years, the Democratic mayors have a done a terrible — I mean, they've done some bad work."
His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, continued the rhetorical fight in a statement. "Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law," Sessions said. "Enough is enough."
The same 23 jurisdictions were contacted last year by the department over the same concerns, but Wednesday's letter is a clear escalation in threats. "If these jurisdictions fail to respond to our request, fail to respond completely or fail to respond in a timely manner, we will exercise our lawful authorities and issue subpoenas for the information," a Justice Department official said, Reuters reported.
The issue fits the mold of the Trump administration's widespread crackdowns on immigrants in pursuit of hardline conservative policies. The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently suggested politicians who oppose the Trump administration's policies on sanctuary cities should be charged with crimes and prosecuted. Many of the department's policies also align with Trump's campaign promises, such as cutting federal funds.
Sessions noted in the statement that those cities stand to lose federal funding if they were found to have violated the statute. Most of the jurisdictions have already said they have followed the law, and sanctuary city advocates argue that it strengthens relations with local law enforcement, Reuters reported.
Under Trump federal immigration sweeps have skyrocketed, and undocumented immigrants who are noncriminals have been swept up at an alarming rate.