The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is accusing the Justice Department of using harsh and the"bullying tactics" to force cities to comply with its immigration policies.
The DOJ offered financial aid to 12 cities struggling with increased violent crime in June to help them combat gang activity and drug trafficking. But on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent letters to four of the selected cities—Baltimore; Albuquerque, N.M.; Stockton, Calif.; and San Bernardino, Calif.—telling them that in order to receive the extra funding they would need to comply with federal immigration authorities.
The cities' leaders were ordered to give federal agents access to their jails and to notify immigration authorities before an undocumented immigrant is released from jail.
"By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called 'sanctuary' policies make all of us less safe," said Sessions.
The letters followed earlier threats by the DOJ in which the department said it would pull funding from sanctuary cities, which have publicly refused to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as the federal government steps up raids and deportations. None of the four cities that recieved letters have identified themselves as sanctuary cities.
Representatives from the four cities said their police departments book arrested individuals into jails run by their surrounding counties and states, and therefore are not able to allow federal agents into the facilities. The police chief of Stockton, Eric Jones, said the city's officers do not enforce immigration laws.
"That does not mean we don't work with our other federal partners, but that is just not a function of ours," Jones said.
Sergio Luna of the religious coalition Inland Congregations United for Change in the San Bernardino area told the Los Angeles Times that the funding that was offered to the city and is now being withheld is badly needed.
"It's unfortunate that the administration is basically telling its own citizens, 'We'll deny you funding for something you're obviously in desperate need of just to advance our own agenda of cracking down on immigrants,'" he said. "I think it's a bad situation for the entire population of San Bernardino and completely unfair for the immigrant community that is not even the root cause of the urban gun violence that takes place."
The ACLU's New Mexico chapter denounced Sessions's attempt to use the DOJ's offer of financial aid as leverage to further its anti-immigration efforts, and noted that local enforcement of federal law is counterproductive.
"When local police start enforcing federal immigration laws, it damages trust and cooperation between immigrant communities and local law enforcement," the group said. "That makes all of us less safe."