Attorney General Jeff Sessions has set a deadline for some jurisdictions to prove that they cooperate with federal immigration law. Credit: Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The U.S. Justice Department announced this week that an official review found that the state of Connecticut and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, were not shielding immigrants from deportation, while giving so-called sanctuary cities two weeks to prove that local officials properly share information with immigration agents.

In setting the Oct. 27 deadline, the Justice Department said it was the “last chance” for four cities and one county to show they are in compliance with federal immigration law. The law in question involves information sharing between local officials and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Thursday.

Along with Cook County, Illinois, the four cities are Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia. Curiously, California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which the Justice Department had also targeted as one of 10 jurisdictions in question, was not named in the announcement. Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, and Miami-Dade County in Florida previously were cleared by the Trump administration.

The latest deadline sets up yet another showdown between the Trump administration and local authorities, some of whom have sworn to reject the federal government’s attempts to force them to engage in immigration enforcement.

At the same time, other states, including Texas and Wisconsin, have passed or are weighing laws that essentially would ban sanctuary cities, making the country a patchwork of laws and policies on immigration enforcement.  

The Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report in May 2016 that singled out 10 jurisdictions out of more than 140 that were identified as being potentially in violation of the law.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting in August examined sanctuary city policies, including in Milwaukee County, and the issues of an anti-sanctuary-city effort in Wisconsin and the reliance on immigrant labor in the state’s dairy industry. A Reveal analysis found that the four cities and county that the Justice Department highlighted Thursday all have strong sanctuary policies.

Milwaukee County, in particular, had remained on the list despite the fact that its now-former sheriff, the outspoken conservative and controversial Trump supporter David A. Clarke Jr., bucked local policy that limited information sharing and gladly shared information with and continued to hold immigrants for federal officials. Clarke resigned Aug. 31.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the Justice Department informed Milwaukee County that it complied with federal law because the sheriff’s office does not follow a 2012 county resolution that limits how information is shared with immigration agents. But the Justice Department pointed out that the resolution does restrict information sharing.

Margaret Daun, who drafted the county’s defense of its policy regarding information sharing while showing that Clarke did comply with requests from federal immigration agents, said she was pleased and thankful for the Justice Department’s decision. The county was at risk of losing $6.3 million a year in federal funding, according to county records. Daun said county policy follows the letter and spirit of federal law on information sharing.

“Milwaukee County is committed to protecting the civil rights of all our residents, and treating our immigrant community with the respect and dignity they deserve,” she said in a statement.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has ratcheted up pressure on the 10 jurisdictions and more broadly on sanctuary cities, trying to tie federal funding to compliance with the law.

That effort has been challenged in federal courts by state and local governments around the country, including San Francisco and Santa Clara counties in California. Federal district judges in separate injunctions have blocked Justice Department efforts to withhold funding while the lawsuits are pending. California recently passed legislation, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law, making it the first state to adopt broad sanctuary status that restricts how state and local law enforcement agencies interact with federal immigration officials. That, in turn, brought a rebuke from the Trump administration.

The Wisconsin state Senate held a hearing Thursday on a proposed law that effectively would prohibit sanctuary policies. That bill is akin to a law passed earlier this year in Texas. That law, SB 4, which went into limited effect while a federal lawsuit remains on appeal. A federal appeals court hearing is slated for Nov. 4.  

Andrew Becker can be reached at abecker@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Beckerreports.

Andrew Becker is a reporter for Reveal, covering border, national and homeland security issues, as well as weapons and gun trafficking. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse – with stories ranging from border corruption to the expanding use of drones and unmanned aerial vehicles, from the militarization of police to the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, from terrorism to drug trafficking. Becker's reporting has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and on National Public Radio and PBS/FRONTLINE, among others. He received a master's degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Becker is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.