Justice Dept ramps up pressure on 'sanctuary cities' and states, - KPTV - FOX 12

Justice Dept ramps up pressure on 'sanctuary cities' and states, including Oregon

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Portland on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. (KPTV) Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Portland on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. (KPTV)
WASHINGTON (KPTV/AP) -

The Justice Department ramped up pressure Wednesday on "sanctuary cities" and states, including Oregon, seeking public safety grant money, warning state and local officials they could be legally forced to prove they are cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

Officials sent letters to roughly two dozen jurisdictions threatening to issue subpoenas if they don't willingly relinquish documents showing they aren't withholding information about the immigration status of people in custody.

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.

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."

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.

In response to the subpoenas, Governor Kate Brown said Oregon wouldn't be "bullied by a Trump Administration" she said was trying to divide U.S. citizens.

"Oregon’s laws are in place to uphold the civil rights of all Oregonians, and the federal government cannot, under the U.S. Constitution, force state law enforcement officers to implement the policies of this administration," she said in a statement. "Oregon is a welcoming place for all who call our state home. These values were affirmed some thirty years ago in state statute, which are in full compliance with federal law. As Governor, I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that the rights and values of all Oregonians are protected.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheel, speaking at the US Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C., said it was insulting and dangerous that federal officials would threaten other elected officials who are following the law, adding that this was not the will of the citizens of the country.

“This is one of the most disappointing actions from a White House in my lifetime, and the reason it is so disappointing to me is that it demonstrates a lack of a moral compass in the leadership of the United States of America,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler and a number of other mayors attending the conference boycotted a planned meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump.

The president still met with other mayors, including Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer, adding that the mayors skipping the meetings were siding with "criminal illegal immigrants."

"The mayors who choose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal illegal immigrants over law-abiding Americans," Trump said. "But let me tell you, the vast majority of people showed up because the vast majority believe in safety for your city."

The Department of Justice gave the cities and states receiving subpoenas Wednesday, including Oregon, until February 23 o comply with the order.

Reporting by Sadie Gurman

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