WASHINGTON - The Justice Department escalated its promised crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities Tuesday, saying it will no longer award coveted grant money to cities unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.
Under old rules, cities seeking grant money needed only to show they were not preventing local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities about the immigration status of people they have detained.
The announcement came as questions swirled about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' future as the nation's top law enforcement officer following days of blistering criticism from President Donald over his performance. Sessions and Trump had bonded during the campaign, largely over their hardline views on illegal immigration. And Trump ran on a platform that included slashing federal grants for cities that refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to detain and deport those living in the country illegally. A judge blocked an executive order aimed at doing that, but the Justice Department said it still could condition some of its grants to force cities to comply.
“So-called `sanctuary' policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said in a statement. “These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law. ... We must encourage these `sanctuary' jurisdictions to change their policies and partner with federal law enforcement to remove criminals.”
The conditions apply to one of the Justice Department's most popular grant programs, which provides police departments money to buy everything from bulletproof vests to body cameras. The requirements will apply to cities seeking grants starting in September.
Sessions for months had been warning jurisdictions they could lose money, just for having rules that limit communication among local police and immigration officials. The new conditions say officials must let Department of Homeland Security employees have access to local jails in order to meet with immigrants and must give them 48 hours' notice before releasing an immigrant wanted by immigration authorities from their custody.
“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states,” Sessions said. “And these long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer.”