The Trump administration on Tuesday stepped up its pressure on so-called sanctuary cities, warning that it would withhold grant money unless local jurisdictions cooperate with federal immigration officials.
The Justice Department said that cities must provide federal immigration officials with access to jails and give a two-day notice before releasing a person who is residing in the U.S. illegally or risk funding being cut off.
“So-called sanctuary policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE said in a statement.
“These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law."
The conditions apply to a popular Justice Department grant program that provides police money to buy items such as body cameras and bulletproof vets.
The agency's grants now will only be available "to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities," according to the agency announcement.
The move marks a change from old rules under which cities could still receive federal grants as long as they could prove they were not blocking local law enforcement from flagging the citizenship status of someone they have in custody.
Sessions pointed to the recent human trafficking event in San Antonio, Texas -- in which 10 people died and scores more were injured after being left in a semitrailer without water or air conditioning -- as an example of the "tragic consequences" sanctuary cities can have on the lives of others.
"We must encourage these 'sanctuary' jurisdictions to change their policies and partner with federal law enforcement to remove criminals," Sessions said.
Sessions's announcement came even as speculation mounted over the attorney general's future in the Trump administration after days of criticism from President Trump, who referred to his attorney general as "beleaguered."
Trump has voiced frustration with Sessions for his "unfair" decision to recuse himself from investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.
The president's repeated criticisms of Sessions on Twitter and in interviews over the past week has fueled buzz about whether he may ask for his attorney general's resignation.
Trump refused to say earlier Tuesday whether he would ask for Sessions' resignation, though continued to criticize him, saying he was "disappointed" in his attorney general.
Sessions, an early supporter of Trump's presidential bid, has been tasked with carrying out much of the president's agenda cracking down on illegal immigration.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to go after sanctuary cities that stand in the way of federal efforts to crack down on individuals in the country illegally.
Tuesday's announcement, which would affect cities seeking grants as early as September, falls in line with Trump's campaign promises to crackdown on illegal immigration and the institutions that protect them.