Four cities seeking federal aid to reduce gun violence and gang crime first must prove they do not employ sanctuary policies that shield illegal immigrants, the Justice Department announced Thursday, the latest step taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to force cooperation between local authorities and federal immigration agents.
The Justice Department sent letters to four cities struggling with violent crime, telling leaders their cities will not be eligible for a new federal program to address violent crime unless they give the Department of Homeland Security access to local jails and comply with federal immigration detainers to give agents time to take custody of illegal immigrants before they are released.
The letters were sent to leaders from Albuquerque, New Mexico; Baltimore; San Bernardino and Stockton, California — each of which expressed interest in the Justice Department’s Public Safety Partnership program.
“The Department of Justice is committed to supporting our law enforcement at every level, and that’s why we’re asking ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions to stop making their jobs harder,” Mr. Sessions said in the announcement. “By taking simple, common-sense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement.”
When the department announced the program in June, as well as its first 12 participants, no mention was made of the requirement that cities cooperate with immigration authorities.
A Justice Department spokesman said cooperation with federal authorities had already been taken into account for the first 12 cities chosen — which are: Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Jackson, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan; and Springfield, Illinois.
The cities were selected for the program based on higher-than-average rates of violent crime, with the understanding that other jurisdictions could later be added to the program.
Each of the four cities that received letters Thursday from the Justice Department had expressed interest in the program after the initial announcement.
To join the program, the cities will be required to show they allow DHS officials access to their jails in order to meet with individuals suspected of being in the country illegally, that they provide DHS at least 48 hours notice when they plan to release a known illegal immigrant, and that they will honor federal immigration detainers.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which tracks jurisdictions with sanctuary policies, listed only two of the four cities as sanctuary jurisdictions — Baltimore and San Bernardino.
Thursday’s announcement comes after the Justice Department previously announced its intention to require recipients of the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program to cooperate with federal immigration agents by allowing them access to jails and providing 48 hours notice of the release of illegal immigrants.