The Justice Department on Thursday questioned whether some so-called sanctuary cities responded honestly when asked whether they follow the law on sharing the citizenship status of people in their custody with federal immigration authorities.
In a strongly worded statement, the department said some of the 10 jurisdictions under scrutiny insist they are compliant with the law while still defiantly refusing to cooperate with efforts to detain and deport immigrants living in the country illegally. The Justice Department said it was reviewing policies of the jurisdictions to determine whether they should lose some federal grant money for failing to prove they are adhering to federal immigration law.
The cities include New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia, which said in its letter to the department that the city was adhering to the law even while refusing to collect information on residents' immigration statuses.
Also on the list are two states — California and Connecticut — along with Miami-Dade County; Cook County in Illinois; Milwaukee County in Wisconsin; and Clark County in Nevada.
The locales were singled out last year by the department's inspector general for having rules that hinder the ability of local law enforcement to communicate with federal officials about the immigration status of people they have detained. The cities disagreed with that assessment, saying their rules comport with the specific section of federal law that bars municipalities from forcing local officials to keep certain information from federal immigration authorities.
"They are having it both ways now,'' said Leon Fresco, who led the Justice Department's Office of Immigration Ligation during the Obama administration.
"The cities are saying, we will not in any way do anything that affirmatively increases the amount of immigration enforcement that is occurring in our city. Having said that, if a federal official asks us for information, we will provide this information.''
The move was the latest by the Trump administration to crack down on locations that have been characterized as sanctuary cities. It follows the signing of an executive order that went also went after federal money going to such locations, but a judge later blocked that, saying the president could not set new conditions on spending approved by Congress.
The Justice Department contends the executive order applies to a relatively small amount of money, specifically the few grants that require localities to comply with the information-sharing law. Fresco said that narrow standard likely means many cities will be considered in compliance, even if they remain defiant of Trump immigration policies.
"They are asserting strict technical compliance, but they are not asserting that they actually affirmatively provide information to the federal government,'' he said.
The cities on Thursday stood by their policies:
— Cook County, Illinois, provided federal officials an eight-page legal opinion asserting its compliance, and adding, "The United States Constitution, however, limits the authority of the federal government to impose its immigration obligations onto state and local governments.''
— Chicago also claimed it was following the law. "But make no mistake, Chicago will continue to be a welcoming city and stand up for the values that have made us a beacon of hope for immigrants and refugees from around the world for generations,'' city spokeswoman Jennifer Martinez said in a statement.
— Miami-Dade County sent a 423-page document to the Justice Department with information on the process its jailers follow to inform immigration authorities, notifying them of people who were set to be released and had been previously wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation.
— Milwaukee County attorney Margaret Daun warned that if grant funding is pulled, "the County would avail itself of all legal options available to it and raise numerous legal arguments.''
— New Orleans reminded the Justice Department that it adopted its immigration status policy in accordance with a federal consent decree on police reforms that it negotiated with the Justice Department during President Barack Obama's administration. A court-appointed monitor reviewed and approved the policy language, the city noted.
— California laws, including those intended to deter local law enforcement from cooperating with immigration officials, do not violate federal law, the state said in its official reply.
— And the sheriff in Clark County, Nevada, sent more than 100 pages of documents he said demonstrate police and jailers in Las Vegas cooperate with immigration authorities, noting that some jail officers are "deputized to carry out specific immigration officer duties'' and are expected to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.