During the White House press briefing on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned sanctuary cities that they must comply with federal immigration laws or face federal funding cuts. Sessions' announcement perhaps does not come as a complete surprise, as President Trump signed a controversial and, according to the Washington Post, constitutionally-questionable Executive Order back in January that denied federal funding to sanctuary cities.
"Sanctuary cities" are not recognized legal entities but, rather, cities that broadly tend to limit cooperation between federal immigration officials and local government and law enforcement authorities. This limited cooperation usually includes local officials, like police, not questioning residents' immigration statuses. Cities well-known for their "sanctuary" status include Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, and many others.
During the press briefing, Sessions condemned sanctuary cities and accused them of threatening the safety of their citizens and of the United States. Sessions asserted, "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 and to rethink these policies. Such policies make their cities and states less safe — public safety as well as national security are at stake — and put them at risk of losing federal dollars."
Sessions asserted that because of the public safety concerns supposedly posed by sanctuary cities, the Department of Justice, "...intend[s] to use all the lawful authorities we have to make sure our state and local officials … are in sync with the federal government." Sessions further stated that to ensure compliance with federal immigration law, the Department of Justice "will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with [relevant laws] as a condition of receiving those awards." A pullback in Department of Justice grants could be massively impactful; according to ABC News, the Department's Office of Justice Programs is expected to award $4.1 billion in grants during the current fiscal year.
While Sessions expounded on the Trump administration's concerns about illegal immigration and undocumented immigrants, many critics assert that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit a crime in the United States than citizens. According to Jezebel, Sessions' emphasis on safety is merely just a way to force the hand of city and state officials when it comes to enforcing federal immigration law.
Only time will tell if Sessions will remain steadfast with his funding threats and if cities and states will choose to respond to these threats. So far, some states, including California, have remained unwilling to negotiate on sanctuary city policies and have even threatened to cut off federal funding and influence completely should the federal government "punish" California for its sanctuary city status. It will be interesting to observe whether other states and cities will follow suit in light of Sessions' latest announcement.