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Justice Department Warns 'Sanctuary Cities,' With Grant Money At Risk

Apr 21, 2017
Originally published on April 21, 2017 5:18 pm

Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET.

The U.S. Justice Department has escalated its approach to so-called sanctuary cities, writing at least eight jurisdictions Friday to put them on notice they could be failing to cooperate with immigration authorities.

Alan Hanson, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's grant-making arm, warned the cities that they're required to submit proof that they comply with federal immigration law.

"Failure to comply with this condition could result in the withholding of grant funds, suspension or termination of the grant, ineligibility for future ... grants, or other action, as appropriate," Hanson wrote.

The places receiving the letters include Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York and Sacramento, Calif.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has adopted a hard line on immigration, dating to his time in the U.S. Senate. Sessions links immigration to a variety of social problems, including what he calls a rise in crime.

In a statement accompanying the letters to sanctuary cities, the Justice Department said "many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime."

While murders and other violence are on the rise in some major cities, most scholars have concluded that crime remains near historic lows and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens.

The Justice Department statement blasted New York for gang murders there, labeling them "the predictable consequence of the city's 'soft on crime' stance."

New York's murder tally is one of the lowest in the nation, according to data collected by the FBI. A spokesman for the New York Police Department, J. Peter Donald, responded on Twitter: "Did DOJ really say the NYPD is soft on crime?"

Later, Police Commissioner James O'Neill issued a statement pointing out that last year, New York experienced fewer shootings than since the city had started keeping records. To argue otherwise, as the U.S. Justice Department has done, "demonstrates a willful disregard of the facts," O'Neill said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also weighed in, telling President Trump that if he believes New York is soft on crime, "then I invite him to come to NYC, look our officers in the eye and tell them."

In response, the Justice Department said the issue was the city's policies, not law enforcement officers:

"Unfortunately, the Mayor's policies are hamstringing the brave NYPD officers that protect the city, and only serve to endanger the lives of the hard working men and women of the NYPD who care more about keeping their city and country safe than they do about city hall politics."

In California, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his state has a "right to determine how it will provide for the safety and general welfare of its residents and to safeguard their constitutional rights."

Becerra added: "Fearmongering and falsehoods will not intimidate our state into compromising our values. Federal threats to take away resources from law enforcement or our people in an attempt to bully states and localities into carrying out the new administration's unsound deportation plan are reckless and jeopardize public safety."

Earlier this week, Justice Department veterans warned that a tough approach to jurisdictions that refuse to follow federal immigration and marijuana laws could hurt community partnerships.

"I think it's cause for concern," said Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor who now works with newly elected district attorneys and state attorneys. "With federal money moving forward, there could be the potential for federal strings to be attached."

Sessions, who is touring the Southwest border this week, told MSNBC that most cities are cooperating. "We're pleading with the cities, let's don't have a fight over this," Sessions said earlier Friday. "So I hope we don't end into a fight, but we're perfectly willing to do whatever I can to ensure that we have the kind of unified effort that protects America."

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Here in the United States, the Justice Department is putting more pressure on what are sometimes called sanctuary cities. Officials have sent letters to eight cities that receive millions of dollars in law enforcement grants, and they are demanding proof that those cities comply with U.S. immigration law. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: If cities fail to provide proof they're helping federal immigration authorities, the U.S. Justice Department could try to claw back old grant money or put cities on a blacklist that makes them ineligible to win new federal dollars. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who's touring the southwest border this week, explained his thinking on MSNBC.

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JEFF SESSIONS: I would say to the leaders of these cities, please review what you're doing. I say to the voters in those cities, ask your leadership why it is that they don't want to remove dangerous criminals from your community and cooperate with federal law enforcement and why federal law enforcement should cooperate with cities that don't cooperate with them.

JOHNSON: The new Justice Department letters went out to these cities - Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York and Sacramento. Sessions says it's, quote, "unthinkable" to him that some cities won't cooperate, and he's giving them a deadline at the end of June.

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SESSIONS: So I hope we don't end into a fight, but we're perfectly willing to do whatever I can to ensure that we have the kind of unified effort that protects America.

JOHNSON: Sessions links immigration to a host of social problems, including what he calls a rise in crime. While murders and violence are up in some big cities like Chicago, overall crime remains near historic lows. Criminologists point out studies that suggest immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens. The clash between the feds and local police worries some law enforcement veterans. Miriam Krinsky is a former Justice Department lawyer.

MIRIAM KRINSKY: It's creating a very difficult scenario because within any community, federal agencies and state and local agencies know each other. And they're used to cooperating with each other, and they trust each other. Those relationships of trust have built up over years.

JOHNSON: It won't take much, she says, for those bonds to fray. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now a correction. Yesterday we reported that the Chinese government had quickly granted Ivanka Trump new trademark rights for her fashion line, and we referred to her as a paid adviser to her father. That's not correct. Ivanka Trump is an adviser to the president, but she is not taking a salary for that work.

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