The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Wednesday (January 24) escalated pressure on nearly two dozen states and cities that protect immigrants with undocumented status via sanctuary laws, which limit cooperation between local and state law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. The DOJ threatened to issue subpoenas for documents that show if they are abiding by federal immigration laws.

A failure to provide proof of cooperation with ICE could result in these 23 jurisdictions—which include states like California and Illinois, and cities like New York City and Los Angeles—losing federal grant money, the DOJ said in a statement.

“I continue to urge all jurisdictions under review to reconsider policies that place the safety of their communities and their residents at risk,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the statement. “Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law.” 

The federal money Sessions threatened to pull amounted to $39 million in fiscal year 2016, according to The Washington Post. Last fall, two federal judges blocked Sessions from withholding grant money from sactuary cities that fail to cooperate with ICE

One federal judge’s decision, which argued that Sessions had overstepped his authority, came after Chicago sued Sesssions, contending that the federal policy was unconstitutional. In November, a judge in San Francisco issued a permanent injuction to block Trump’s executive order denying federal funding to sanctuary cities after San Francisco and Santa Clara County filed lawsuits.

In the wake of the DOJ’s decision on Wednesday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who are in Washington D.C. for the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, cancelled scheduled sessions with Trump, with de Blasio labeling the DOJ decision “racist.”


Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also skipped the meeting with Trump and criticized the threat during a press conference. Said Emanuel, according to the Chicago Tribune:

The idea that you are also going to take leaders, mayors, and put them in legal and criminal jeopardy because there’s a disagreement—where in fact the courts already ruled both in our case and I think also the California case in San Francisco contrary to the Justice Department—it is really an amazing take for the attorney general to disregard what the court system has already said uniformly from coast to coast.

Dozens of U.S. jurisdictions—states, counties and cities—have adopted sanctuary policies during the Trump presidency. While they limit cooperation with immigration officials, they do not prevent the federal government from arresting immigrants with undocumented status.

ICE has targeted sanctuary cities in several nationwide sweeps, arresting hundreds of immigrants for allegedly violating federal immigration laws. The agency has warned that more raids are coming. And earlier this month, Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, extended the threat of arrest for non-compliance to politicians who shelter immigrants.

“This isn’t the America I grew up in,” Homan told Fox News. “We’ve got to take these sanctuary cities on. We’ve got to take them to court, and we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.”