The non-partisan US Conference of Mayors cancelled the meeting after the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked nearly two dozen jurisdictions to show whether their local law enforcement officials were sharing information with immigration authorities.
The department has repeatedly threatened to deny millions of dollars in important grant money to communities that refuse to share information, as part of the Trump administration's promised crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” or jurisdictions that shield undocumented migrants from federal immigration agencies.
“Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s decision to threaten mayors and demonize immigrants yet again – and use cities as political props in the process – has made this meeting untenable,” conference President Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. A number of cities and mayors have openly touted their defiance of threats from Washington.
Twenty-three cities, counties and states received letters from the DOJ on Wednesday raising concerns about their compliance with 8 USC 1373, a federal statute that prohibits local governments and agencies from keeping certain information from federal immigration enforcement agencies.
The letter demanded to see all instructions local law enforcement agencies had given their officers regarding communication with the DOJ, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The DOJ threatened to subpoena records from jurisdictions that did not comply, and said it would revoke their Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant funding. The 23 jurisdictions – which include Chicago, New York City, and the entire state of California – received more than $39m from the grant programme in fiscal year 2016.
“I continue to urge all jurisdictions under review to reconsider policies that place the safety of their communities and their residents at risk,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law.”
At least two mayors backed out of the meeting with Mr Trump on Wednesday, after news of the letters spread.
“I will NOT be attending today’s meeting at the White House after @realDonaldTrump’s Department of Justice decided to renew their racist assault on our immigrant communities,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. “It doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.”
Mr Landrieu announced the cancellation of the meeting that afternoon. He said the conference would be willing to meet with Mr Trump at a later date, if the President was "prepared to engage in an honest conversation about the future of our shared constituencies”.
“Until that time, mayors of both parties will work together to keep our cities safe, hold this administration accountable to its promises, and protect immigrant communities – with or without Washington’s help,” the New Orleans mayor said.
The meeting was intended to bring Mr Trump and the nation’s most prominent mayors together to discuss infrastructure plans, . White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the administration would “love” to be able to work with these mayors, but added: “The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities.”
“We cannot allow a few individual people to decide that they don’t want to follow the rules,” she said.
The White House's war on "sanctuary cities" has been stymied by a series of court decision over the last year, with lawsuits pending in Chicago, Philadelphia and California.
In September, a federal judge ruled that the DOJ could not withhold Byrne grants from cities that refused to give federal immigration officials access to their jails, among other things. In November, another judge blocked Mr Trump’s executive order denying funding to sanctuary cities.
The DOJ said at the time that they would “continue to fully enforce existing law and to defend lawful and reasonable grant conditions that seek to protect communities and law enforcement.”
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