WASHINGTON – The Trump administration ramped up its pressure Monday on so-called sanctuary communities, touting a new round of legal challenges in Washington state and New Jersey in an attempt to force cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities.
Attorney General William Barr, speaking to a National Sheriffs’ Association conference, also announced that the Justice Department is reviewing the actions of “certain” local prosecutors, claiming that they have engaged in charging foreign nationals with lesser offenses to shield them from deportation.
“In pursuing their personal ambitions and misguided notions of equal justice, these district attorneys are systematically violating the rule of law and may even be unlawfully discriminating against American citizens,” Barr asserted.
The action against prosecutors sets the attorney general, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, on a potential collision course with a host of elected district attorneys who have actively resisted the administration’s immigration enforcement policies.
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Leaders of the National District Attorney’s Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
“Today is a significant escalation in the federal government’s efforts to confront the resistance of sanctuary cities,” Barr said. “We will consider taking action against any jurisdiction or any politician who unlawfully obstructs the federal enforcement of immigration law.”
The Justice Department has sued New Jersey over a policy that it says prevents state and local law enforcement officers from sharing information, including immigration status and release dates of detainees, with immigration agents.
In 2018, the state’s attorney general issued a directive that prohibits state and local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration agents, except when there’s a warrant or court order. State law prevents police officers from providing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, access to state and local resources, including equipment and databases, and it prohibits correctional officers from allowing ICE to interview detainees.
The department also sued King County in Washington state over an executive order that it says keeps ICE contractors from using the King County International Airport for flights to deport undocumented immigrants or transport immigrant detainees.
Last year, county officials passed an ordinance banning flights that transport immigrant detainees.
On Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine said the administration’s action amounted to a form of community “bullying.”
“Mass deportations raise deeply troubling human rights concerns, including separation of families, racial dis-proportionality in policing, and constitutional issues of due process,” Constantine said. “The Justice Department initiated a legal fight over our regional airport rather than working with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We look forward to our day in court.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing a separate lawsuit from the Justice Department over a law that prohibits the operations of private detention facilities in the state. This means that undocumented immigrants arrested in California will have to be taken to out-of-state facilities, which would result in costly transportation costs and security concerns, the Justice Department said.
More than 300 jurisdictions across the U.S. are considered immigration sanctuaries in some fashion. But they’re not just cities.
At least eight states – from New Jersey to Illinois to California – are considered sanctuary states, according to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restricting immigration.
Hundreds of additional cities and counties decline to tell federal immigration authorities about possible illegal immigrants in their custody and refuse to comply with detainer orders.