By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. cities that refuse to step up efforts to focus on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants will not be allowed to participate in a new crime reduction training program unveiled earlier this year by the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday.
In making the announcement, Sessions singled out four local police departments that had expressed interest in the new Public Safety Partnership Program, saying they first had to answer a list of questions by Aug. 18 confirming they do not have any “sanctuary” policies to shield illegal immigrants from possible deportation by ensuring they will allow federal immigration officials access to local jails.
“By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe,” Sessions said.
The four police departments that must respond are Albuquerque, New Mexico; Baltimore, Maryland; and San Bernardino and Stockton, California.
Representatives for the four cities’ police departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sessions’ announcement reflects part of a broader policy push by President Donald Trump to crack down generally on illegal immigration.
He has urged Congress to support funding the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the administration has moved to dramatically widen the net of illegal immigrants targeted for deportation.
This week, Trump also backed a bill developed by Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia to also cut back on legal immigration by 50 percent over ten years.
The National Public Safety Partnership is a new program launched in June that involves a three-year initiative geared toward areas with high rates of violent crime.
Twelve cities were selected when it was first launched, including Buffalo, New York, Houston, Texas and in Sessions’ home state, Birmingham, Alabama.
It is unclear how cities with interest in the program may respond to the Justice Department’s stance, but some municipalities have pushed back against the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
A U.S. judge last month refused to remove a block on an executive order by President Donald Trump that would have withheld federal funds from “sanctuary” cities, which do not use municipal funds or resources to help advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, editing by G Crosse)