NEW YORK (AP) — New York City and Philadelphia officials wrote to the U.S. Justice Department Friday defying a directive intended to pressure the cities into cooperating more with federal immigration enforcement efforts.
The two cities were among four so-called "sanctuary cities" that were given an Oct. 27 deadline to show they're not hampering enforcement of U.S. immigration law.
The Justice Department has threatened to cut off millions of dollars in federal grants to the cities, which also include Chicago and New Orleans, if they don't meet certain criteria.
In New York, the Justice Department wants the city's jails to notify federal immigration agents when someone in the United States illegally is about to be released from custody. Right now, local laws only allow city officials to share information about people who have been convicted of certain crimes.
In a letter to an assistant attorney general Friday, the head of the city's Law Department, Zachary Carter, said he believed New York had met all legal conditions of the grant program and wasn't required to do more than it was already doing.
He said the federal statute that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cited to compel cooperation with immigration agents "cannot be read to override the city's confidentiality policy and unconstitutionally interfere with the city's right to exert control over its officers and employees."
Carter added that Congress did not intend the law-enforcement grant program to be linked to cooperation with immigration agents.
New York City is anticipating $4.3 million that's been authorized under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Carter said the city is "deeply committed to preserving this funding."
Philadelphia sued Sessions in August over the conditions that had been added to the grant program, calling them unconstitutional and capricious.
Philadelphia is expecting to receive about $1.7 million under the program. City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante said in his letter Friday that Philadelphia is requesting that the Justice Department not withhold the funds until the lawsuit is resolved.
The federal grant program was named after a slain New York City police officer. It pays for public safety equipment.
Sessions has said that cities that don't help enforce immigration law are endangering public safety, especially when it comes to sharing information about immigrants who have been accused of crimes.