By Steve Large

SACRAMENTO (CBS13/AP) — Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said a new Justice Department threat leveled at sanctuary cities goes against American values.

“This President and this administration go beyond the pale,” Steinberg said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called a new Justice Department threat leveled at sanctuary cities “unconscionable” and “un-American.”

Their anger was triggered by a Justice Department warning Wednesday that state and local officials could be legally forced to prove they are cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

President Trump argued on Wednesday that sanctuary cities were putting their citizens at risk.

“Sanctuary cities are the best friends of the gangs and the cartels like MS-13. You know that,” said President Trump.

The mayors of those cities – many of whom were in DC for the mayors’ conference, were not happy about the move. In turn, they boycotted Wednesday’s White House luncheon.

“My city is roughly a third immigrants and they are living in unconscionable levels of fear,” she told CBS News while attending meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. “Children not going to school, not keeping medical appointments. Children afraid that their parents will not come home from work.”

Schaaf said she was joining other mayors in boycotting a White House meeting with President Donald Trump scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

“It is unconscionable,” she said of the latest threat. “It is un-American that this administration thinks that it is okay to threaten a duly elected official with jail time for putting, in my opinion, public safety in front of politics.”

Schaaf said Oakland officials were simply exercising their right not to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“This administration has specifically threatened to retaliate against cities like Oakland with focused raids, with raids that are simply intended to punish us for exercising our legal right to prioritize public safety of our residents over the broken immigration system that this federal government has failed to fix,” she said.

Schaaf also reiterated her promise to go to jail over her support of Oakland’s sanctuary city policies.

“I said last week, that if I have to go to jail to illustrate how un-American, how against our Constitution, this administration’s threats are, I would be proud as an American and as an Oaklander to do that,” she said.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was critical of the mayors who boycotted his meeting.

“The mayors who chose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal illegal immigrants over those of law abiding Americans,” he said.

Federal officials sent letters to roughly two dozen jurisdictions threatening to issue subpoenas if they don’t willingly relinquish documents showing they aren’t withholding information about the citizenship or immigration status of people in custody.

Oakland was not among cities sent letters on Wednesday, but several other California cities and counties were. They were:

  • Berkeley
  • Fremont
  • Los Angeles
  • Monterey County
  • Sacramento County
  • City and County of San Francisco
  • Sonoma County
  • Watsonville

The department has repeatedly threatened to deny millions of dollars in important grant money to communities that refuse to comply with a federal statute requiring information-sharing with federal authorities, as part of the Trump administration’s promised crackdown on cities and states that refuse to help enforce U.S. immigration laws.

Many cities have been openly defiant in the face of the threats, with lawsuits pending in Chicago, Philadelphia and California over whether the administration has overstepped its authority by seeking to withhold grant money.

The move angered the mayors who had been set to meet with Trump on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure, drug addiction and other topics.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the conference president, said in a statement that “the Trump administration’s decision to threaten mayors and demonize immigrants yet again – and use cities as political props in the process – has made this meeting untenable.”

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors is proud to be a bipartisan organization. But an attack on mayors who lead welcoming cities is an attack on everyone in our conference,” he said.

New York’s Bill de Blasio announced his boycott on Twitter.

“I will NOT be attending today’s meeting at the White House after @realDonaldTrump’s Department of Justice decided to renew their racist assault on our immigrant communities,” he wrote, adding that the move “doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.”

Trump spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the White House was “disappointed that a number of mayors have chosen to make a political stunt instead of participating in an important discussion with the president and his administration.”

“President Trump is committed to tackling the challenges facing this country and looks forward to visiting with a large bipartisan group of mayors that represent both rural and urban municipalities,” she said.

San Francisco’s new interim Mayor Mike Farrell also responded to the letter.

“My administration over the next half year will 100 percent be committed to being a sanctuary city,” said Farrell. “We will stand up to the Trump administration and everything they do.”

The 23 jurisdictions that received letters Wednesday include cities in Illinois, New York, California, New Mexico, Washington, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Vermont and Oregon. Officials said the places have been previously warned that they need to provide information about their policies to be eligible to receive grants that pay for everything from bulletproof vests to officer overtime.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has blamed “sanctuary city” policies for crime and gang violence, saying Wednesday, “we have seen too many examples of the threat to public safety represented by jurisdictions that actively thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement_enough is enough.”

But defenders of sanctuary city practices say they actually improve public safety by promoting trust among law enforcement and immigrant communities and reserving scarce police resources for other, more urgent crime-fighting needs.

Federal dollars also hang in the balance of this debate. Sessions is trying to tie policy to the fate of funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.

Last year, that program provided $39 million to the 23 jurisdictions in question.

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