DOJ Ratchets Up Pressure on Sanctuary Cities, Threatens Subpoenas for 23 Jurisdictions

Sanctuary Now
Frederic J. Brown/ AFP/Getty Images

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a new round of efforts aimed at reining in so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions Wednesday, seeking the widest disclosures yet in their effort to nail down those policies that violate federal law.

Unlike the previous rounds of letters demanding information and compliance from these cities, counties, and states which have formal policies forbidding cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, this set of letters, mailed Wednesday, includes specific warnings that DOJ will pursue subpoenas to get information if they are not followed. The two earlier rounds of letters received responses from the suspected sanctuary cities that universally claimed to be in compliance with federal law.

By February 23, these accused sanctuary jurisdictions are commanded to send the Justice Department:

All documents reflecting any orders, directives, instructions, or guidance to your law enforcement employees (including, but not limited to, police officers, correctional officers, and contract employees), whether formal or informal, that were distributed, produced, and/or in effect during the relevant timeframe, regarding whether and how these employees may, or may not, communicate with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or their agents, whether directly or indirectly.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement accompanying the letters’ dispatch:

I continue to urge all jurisdictions under review to reconsider policies that place the safety of their communities and their residents at risk. Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law. We have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement—enough is enough.

The inquiry is part of an ongoing effort by the administration to hold these non-compliant jurisdictions, many of which openly oppose any cooperation on immigration enforcement, to account. At baseline, DOJ hopes to deny certain federal grant money, most notably the “Byrne JAG” awards, to jurisdictions that fail to comply with 8 U.S.C. § 1373, a federal law stating jurisdictions “may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration officers] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” Bryne grants, by their congressional authorizing language, may not be sent to jurisdictions that violate 8 U.S.C. § 1373.

The effort began with an executive order from President Donald Trump shortly after his inauguration. After his confirmation, Attorney General Sessions has launched a series of initiatives, with some success, to pressure sanctuary cities into compliance, at the very least on information sharing as specified in 8 U.S.C. § 1373. Compliance with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “detainer” orders to allow federal authorities to apprehend illegal aliens accused of crimes is another front.

From the very onset, however, the efforts have hit stumbling blocks as liberal courts, primarily on the West Coast, have sought to stop enforcement of Trump’s executive order as an improper intrusion on states’ rights. DOJ officials expressed their belief to reporters Wednesday that nothing in these preliminary rulings prohibits these efforts to seek compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373.

This round of pressure is aimed primarily at gathering evidence, through the requested documents, that the jurisdictions in question are, in fact, violating 8 U.S.C. § 1373 with directives for employees to ignore ICE and other federal requests.

The following suspected sanctuary jurisdictions, including newly-minted sanctuary state Illinois, whose Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed on to efforts to frustrate federal immigration enforcement in August, were sent the new letters:

  • Chicago, Illinois;
  • Cook County, Illinois;
  • New York City, New York;
  • State of California;
  • Albany, New York;
  • Berkeley, California;
  • Bernalillo County, New Mexico;
  • Burlington, Vermont;
  • City and County of Denver, Colorado;
  • Fremont, California;
  • Jackson, Mississippi;
  • King County, Washington;
  • Lawrence, Massachusetts;
  • City of Los Angeles, California;
  • Louisville Metro, Kentucky;
  • Monterey County, California;
  • Sacramento County, California;
  • City and County of San Francisco, California;
  • Sonoma County, California;
  • Watsonville, California;
  • West Palm Beach, Florida;
  • State of Illinois; and
  • State of Oregon.

The reaction from the leaders of some of these potential 8 USC § 1373 violators was swift and typical of the open-borders left’s rhetoric:

All three of the above mayors, among the country’s leading elected illegal alien advocates, were slated to attend a meeting with President Trump on infrastructure spending Wednesday afternoon.

In addition to this latest round of letters, DOJ is reviewing the possibility of criminal investigations of state and local officials providing illegal aliens “sanctuary” through their policies, according to a statement last week by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.


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