Attorney General William Barr launched a volley of lawsuits at progressive communities Monday in the latest escalation of the administration’s hardline tactic on illegal immigration.
Speaking at an annual gathering of sheriffs in Washington, Barr put politicians on watch and announced a trio of lawsuits aimed at laws that he said were putting the safety of undocumented immigrants ahead of law-abiding citizens.
In Washington state, the Justice Department sued to block a policy that blocks the Department of Homeland Security from deporting undocumented immigrants out of a Seattle airport.
In New Jersey, prosecutors alleged that practices preventing information sharing between local law enforcement and immigration officials are unlawful.
And in California, Justice Department attorneys pushed back against a new state law that prohibits the use of private detention facilities, which are used by the Department of Homeland Security to house undocumented immigrants.
Officials in all three states said they would not stand down in the face of the legal challenges. The press secretary for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Vicky Waters, said in a statement that “we won’t back down in defending our laws.”
“We are already actively engaged in an administrative process with the FAA to resolve our differing interpretations,” said King County, Washington, Executive Dow Constantine in a statement. “The Trump administration and Attorney General Barr chose to circumvent this work for the sake of grabbing headlines.”
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal accused the administration of “sacrificing public safety for political expedience,” alleging that “the President, facing re-election, has suddenly decided to challenge a policy we first announced in 2018.”
“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 that, or any politician who, unlawfully obstructs the federal enforcement of immigration law.”
Barr’s announcement appears to be part of a concerted effort by the administration to push back against cities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities. The Trump administration has long targeted so-called “sanctuary cities,” but the latest push comes in the throes of a presidential election.
At his State of the Union address last week, President Donald Trump heightened the issue in his remarks and invited a man whose brother had been killed by an undocumented immigrant that had been released due to a California sanctuary law.
“Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal, illegal aliens,” Trump said. “In sanctuary cities local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed.”
Separately, the Department of Homeland Security last week also announced that they would prevent residents of New York state from participating in programs that facilitate international travel, like Global Entry, because of a new law that shielded personal information submitted by undocumented immigrants who filed for driver’s licenses from going to immigration enforcement agencies.
Critics called the move political retribution, and the state on Monday filed a lawsuit challenging it in court.
So-called sanctuary cities are a frequent target of Trump’s, but his record against them in court has been mixed.
In April, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to block a California law that limits cooperation between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
But in July, the same court ruled in favor of the Trump administration, saying the Department of Justice could give preference in awarding grants to cities that would use the money to focus on illegal immigration after Los Angeles, a sanctuary city, sued the department because it did not receive any funding from the Community Oriented Policing Services grant program.
Trump has also floated different ways to punish sanctuary cities. He said in April that his administration is “strongly looking at” the possibility of releasing immigrants into so-called sanctuary cities in part to retaliate against Democrats, undercutting earlier denials from his own administration officials.
“In California, the governor wants to have a lot of people coming in, refugees coming in, a lot of sanctuary cities, so we’ll give them to the sanctuary cities maybe to take care of if it’s that the way we want it,” he said during an event at the White House.
This story has been updated with states’ reactions.