What to Know
- New York City was among jurisdictions nationwide that the Justice Department threatened with subpoenas over immigration
- Cities and states face being subpoenaed if they refuse to show they aren't withholding immigration status info about people in custody
- Mayor de Blasio called off a meeting with President Trump, saying he was renewing a "racist assault" on immigrant communities
Mayor Bill de Blasio skipped a planned meeting with President Donald Trump after the Justice Department put new pressure on cities that don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
The Democrat had been scheduled to attend a meeting with other mayors at the White House on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure funding. Instead, he blasted the administration, saying on Twitter it had decided to renew a "racist assault" on immigrant communities.
Trump spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the White House was "disappointed that a number of mayors have chosen to make a political stunt instead of participating in an important discussion with the president and his administration."
The Justice Department sent letters Wednesday to two dozen so-called "sanctuary cities" demanding that they turn over documents showing they aren't withholding information about the immigration status of people in custody and are cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The department has repeatedly threatened to deny millions of dollars in important grant money from communities that refuse to share such information with federal authorities, as part of the Trump administration's promised crackdown on cities and states that refuse to help enforce U.S. immigration laws.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, de Blasio called the department's announcement an unexpected "slap in the face to our cities and our people."
"I came down here ready to have a serious meeting and what I got was a publicity stunt from the Trump administration," de Blasio said. "This letter explicitly threatens our funding once again, threatens to subpoena our personnel."
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. It doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) January 24, 2018
Last summer, the Justice Department announced that 200 so-called sanctuary cities would be disqualified from receiving grants under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants Program if they didn't comply with federal authorities. On Wednesday, de Blasio said the city wouldn't sacrifice gains made between police and immigrant communities to placate the Trump administration.
De Blasio added that Edward Byrne was an NYPD officer who was killed in the line of duty while protecting an immigrant.
"He was murdered because he was protecting an immigrant who had come forward to the police and testified against criminals," de Blasio said.
He added, "Immigrant New Yorkers, documented and undocumented, feel safe going to the police and working with them. We will never let that change."
President Trump on Wednesday said, "The mayors who choose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal illegal immigrants over law-abiding Americans."
Press Secretary added that if mayors have a problem with the Justice Department's actions, "they should talk to the Congress, the people that pass the laws. The Department of Justice enforces them, and as long as that is the law, the Department of Justice is going to strongly enforce it."
As for the mayors, she said the White House would love to work with them, "but we cannot allow people to pick and choose what laws they want to follow."
"If we have a country with no laws, then nothing matters," Sanders added.
Many cities have been openly defiant in the face of the threats, with lawsuits pending in Chicago, Philadelphia and California over whether the administration has overstepped its authority by seeking to withhold grant money.
The 23 jurisdictions that received letters Wednesday include Chicago, New York, Denver, Los Angeles and the states of Illinois, Oregon and California. Officials said the places have been previously warned that they need to provide information about their policies to be eligible to receive grants that pay for everything from bulletproof vests to officer overtime.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has blamed "sanctuary city" policies for crime and gang violence, saying Wednesday, "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."
But defenders of sanctuary city practices say they actually improve public safety by promoting trust among law enforcement and immigrant communities and reserving scarce police resources for other, more urgent crime-fighting needs.