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Justice Dept threatens sanctuary cities in immigration fight

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, speaks as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly listens after the pair toured the ports of entry and met with Department of Justice and DHS personnel in El Paso, Texas, Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Ruben R. Ramirez/The El Paso Times via AP)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, speaks as Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly listens after the pair toured the ports of entry and met with Department of Justice and DHS personnel in El Paso, Texas, Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Ruben R. Ramirez/The El Paso Times via AP)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration intensified its effort to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities, sending letters Friday to nine jurisdictions threatening to withhold grant money unless they document cooperation.

The letters went to officials in California and in major cities including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, all places the Justice Department's inspector general has identified as limiting the information local law enforcement can provide to federal immigration authorities about those in their custody.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has increasingly warned the administration will punish communities that refuse to cooperate with efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally.

In a statement Friday, the Justice Department said the recipients of its letters are "crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime."

The letters warn officials they must provide proof from an attorney that they are following the law or risk losing thousands of dollars in federal grant money that police agencies use to fund anything from body cameras to bulletproof vests.

"Failure to comply with this condition could result in the withholding of grant funds, suspension or termination of the grant, ineligibility for future O.J.P. grants or subgrants, or other action, as appropriate," wrote Alan R. Hanson, acting head of the Office of Justice Programs, which administers the grant program. It's the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.

Cities have resisted the Trump administration's threats. Seattle, not one of the places targeted with a letter, and other jurisdictions have sued the Trump administration over the sanctuary issue.

Earlier this week, Sessions accused sanctuary cities of undermining law enforcement efforts to fight transnational street gangs.

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