US sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants 'cannot continue', says Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions

America's top legal official said Department of Justice funds could be withheld

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Monday 27 March 2017 18:44
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Donald Trump’s top legal officer has announced a new crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, declaring that those places that offer services to undocumented migrants will lose federal funding.

Jeff Sessions said cities and states that were seeking to protect undocumented migrants who had been found guilty of a crime would see cuts in grants from the Department of Justice.

“Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offences puts whole communities at risk, especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators,” Mr Sessions told a White House news briefing.

He said the department would withhold, and potentially claw back, grants to sanctuary cities and other localities that are not in compliance with federal immigration law. Mr Sessions said one Justice Department office was expecting to award more than $4.1bn in grants this year.

Mr Sessions said he was urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with federal laws. He also urged the state of Maryland not to make itself such a place.

Mr Trump said during the election that he would defund sanctuary cities by taking away their federal grants. Mr Trump signed an order in January to withdraw funding from those communities that decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, a move that sparked protests across the country. The order did not specify what kind of money could be pulled.

US Sanctuary Cities: We in California have a responsibility to say 'no'

Sanctuary cities include New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as many smaller municipalities.

The announcement from Mr Sessions came as the Republican governor of Mississippi signed a new law banning the establishment of sanctuary cities and other policies that might help people who have entered the country illegally.

Governor Phil Bryant, a longtime critic of illegal entry by immigrants, cited Mr Trump’s executive order banning sanctuary cities when he signed the law. Since Ms Trump’s order, some states added protections for immigrants while others moved to limit such communities.

“The President said these jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of the republic,” said Mr Bryant.

Mr Sessions claimed that decisions by states or cities to set themselves up as places that provided services to undocumented migrants and protect them from the immigration authorities put the safety of citizens at risk.

He cited the case of a woman named Kate Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant who had been deported previously and had recently been freed by local authorities. The murder became a rallying point for Mr Trump’s newly minted presidential campaign.

“Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offences puts whole communities at risk, especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators,” Mr Sessions said.

“The American people know that when cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe.”

He added: “Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the street.”

Almost immediately after Mr Sessions spoke, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a strident critic of Mr Trump, said he will fight any efforts to defund sanctuary communities in his state.

“My office will continue to ensure local governments have the tools they need to legally protect their immigrant communities – and we won’t stop fighting to beat back President Trump’s un-American immigration policies,” he said.

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