The Trump administration has intensified its efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, sending letters to nine jurisdictions asking for proof that they are working with immigration enforcement.
The U.S. Justice Department said in the letters Friday that it would withhold federal law enforcement grant money unless the jurisdictions can document cooperation. The department hands out more than $2 billion each year to communities across the country to support anti-crime efforts.
The letters were sent to the state of California; Cook County, Illinois; and the cities of Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee and New York.
The jurisdictions all have policies that limit the amount of information that local law enforcement can provide to federal immigration authorities about people in custody who are in the country illegally.
In a statement Friday, the Justice Department said the cities are "crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime," and mentioned an increase in murders in Chicago as well as gang violence in New York City.
It also accused local officials of being more concerned about protecting undocumented immigrants than capturing criminals, citing the recent arrest of MS-13 gang members in California.
"And just several weeks ago in California’s Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next," the release said.
The Justice Department has given the jurisdictions until the end of June to submit documentation that proves they are cooperating with federal authorities.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has increasingly warned communities that the Trump administration will punish those that refuse to cooperate with efforts to detain immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
Sessions told MSNBC Friday that most cities are cooperating. "We're pleading with the cities, let's don't have a fight over this."
"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," he said.
President Donald Trump has also said that cracking down on sanctuary cities is necessary to fight crime and to maintain public safety.
Proponents of sanctuary jurisdictions argue that turning over undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would diminish community trust of police and undermine public safety.
Sanctuary jurisdictions, which include 600 sanctuary cities and counties as well as some states, according to the National Immigration Law Center, are jurisdictions that choose not to inform immigration officials when certain undocumented immigrants are released from custody. Most often, these are immigrants who were charged with or convicted of minor crimes.