LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved Thursday to punish San Bernardino and three other so-called sanctuary cities, threatening to deny them federal crime-fighting resources if they don’t step up efforts to help detain and deport people living in the country illegally.
The Justice Department sent letters to cities struggling with gun violence, telling them they will be ineligible for a new program that aims to root out drug trafficking and gang crime unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice before releasing someone in custody who is wanted on immigration violations.
The cities — San Bernardino, Stockton, Baltimore and Albuquerque — all expressed interest in the Justice Department’s new Public Safety Partnership, which enlists federal agents, analysts and technology to help communities find solutions to crime.
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“By taking simple, common-sense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement,” Sessions said in a statement that accompanied the letters. “That will ultimately make all of us safer — especially law enforcement on our streets.”
In the letters, the department asked the four prospective cities’ police departments to show proof of their compliance by Aug. 18.
Along with San Bernardino, other sanctuary cities in the Southland include Santa Ana and Malibu.
In April, the California Senate approved Senate Bill 54, which would prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, creating a border-to-border sanctuary. The bill is currently before the state Assembly. Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has come out in opposition of the bill.
The threat marks Sessions’ latest effort to force local authorities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, part of a push to reduce crime he believes is linked to illegal immigration. The Justice Department made a similar threat in March. Sessions last week told jurisdictions they need to meet the same conditions or lose out on millions of dollars from a separate program that aims to send grant money to support law enforcement.
Sessions has pledged to make fighting street crime the Justice Department’s top priority, but the strategy is putting him at odds with some city leaders, who say the best way to fight crime and build community trust is to keep local police out of federal immigration matters.
The Justice Department in June tapped 12 cities to receive aid through the Public Safety Partnership, and officials said the four cities that were sent the letters had expressed interest in the next chance at participating.
Cities were chosen based on higher-than-average rates of violence and willingness to receive the help and training. Cities that want to be involved going forward will have to show they allow unfettered communication between police and federal immigration authorities, give agents access to jails in order to question immigrants, and provide them 48-hours’ notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)