The Department of Justice will “claw back” funding from so-called sanctuary cities that resist federal efforts to remove people who are living in the country illegally and also are charged or detained in crimes, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday.
The announcement came as elected officials from more than 30 cities gathered in Manhattan for a “Seeking Sanctuary” conference, and served as a reminder of President Donald Trump’s promise to withhold federal money from local and state governments that refuse to comply with federal immigration law.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sessions’ warning was not a new development. They vowed to continue “sanctuary city” policies, and called New York the safest large city in the United States.
In Washington, Sessions said willful refusal by police to hold “known felons under federal detainer request” endangers the safety of entire communities, including those of immigrants.
“I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities and counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws,” Sessions said in an unannounced appearance at the daily White House press briefing.
Democrats in New York were defiant.
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Trump does not have the constitutional authority to broadly cut off funding to cities “just because they have lawfully acted to protect immigrant families.”
He said Trump’s “draconian” and “un-American” policies undercut the police-community trust necessary for public safety.
Mark-Viverito told reporters: “It really is sad that the security of our city, that the security of our country will be put at stake to just meet a campaign promise to a dwindling base.”
De Blasio said federal funding cuts would affect the NYPD. “Any attempt to cut NYPD funding for the nation’s top terror target will be aggressively fought in court,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We won’t back down from protecting New Yorkers from terror — or from an overzealous administration fixated on xenophobia and needless division.”
City officials said they comply with federal detainer requests when the individual in question has been convicted of a serious or violent felony in the past five years or are on the terrorism watch list.
But the officials said they seek to protect those accused or convicted of lower-level, quality-of-life offenses, such as public drinking and littering, which they say should not lead to deportation.
Also Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump is “absolutely” willing to work with Democrats going forward, but Spicer said it should be a “two-way street.”
The president had suggested that Democrats should work with him because the Affordable Care Act, passed during the administration of former President Barack Obama, will “explode.”
Trump made the remarks Friday after House Republican leaders pulled an Obamacare-repeal bill from the House floor because it lacked the votes to pass.
Spicer also indicated Trump will make another attempt to overhaul health insurance, saying, “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of health care.”
The administration has said its next task is a makeover of the federal tax code — another key Trump campaign promise. The president will be “driving the train on this” but also will work with Congress, Spicer said.
Spicer also declined to elaborate on Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s expected meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Jared volunteered to meet with the committee. They haven’t even confirmed having a meeting yet,” said Spicer. “So to get ahead of what they’ve even asked for would be a little silly.”