Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken new steps to punish cities he believes are not cooperating with federal immigration agents, reports the Associated Press. The move was met with bewilderment by local officials who said they did not know why they were being singled out. The Justice Department sent letters to four cities struggling with gun violence, telling them they would not be eligible for a program that provides help to combat drug trafficking and gang crime unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and notify agents before releasing inmates wanted on immigration violations. Baltimore, Albuquerque, and Stockton and San Bernardino in California all expressed interest in the Justice Department’s Public Safety Partnership, which enlists federal agents, analysts and technology to help communities find solutions to crime.
The threat marks Sessions’ latest effort to force local authorities to help federal agents detain and deport people living in the U.S. illegally as part of a push to reduce crime he believes is linked to illegal immigration. The attorney general has repeatedly vowed to withhold federal money from cities that do not cooperate, similar to how previous administrations have held back highway funds during debates over the speed limit and drinking age. It was not immediately clear to some of the cities why they were targeted. Republican Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry denied that his city is a sanctuary for immigrants living in the country illegally and said he has been trying to work with immigration authorities since taking office in 2009. Peter Simonson of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, called the demands “a bullying tactic.”