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

Eight cities and counties, plus the state of California, have until the end of the day to explain to the Justice Department why their local “sanctuary” policies don’t violate federal law.

The deadline was set months ago by the DOJ, but the timing proved prescient. It marks the end of a week in which President Donald Trump and Republicans saw progress on a number of their immigration priorities in Congress and in the courts.

In April, the Justice Department selected nine jurisdictions that have policies limiting their cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The DOJ asked for proof that the policies are consistent with a federal law requiring free communication between local law enforcement and immigration officials. At risk: a combined $270 million in federal grants.

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has acquired eight responses so far. Each makes the case that local policies – though they may prohibit holding people on ICE’s request, or bar officers from asking people about their citizenship – do nothing to hinder the exchange of information required by federal law.

The California Board of State and Community Corrections general counsel said as much in a straightforward, three-page reply on Thursday. Philadelphia City Solicitor Sozi Pedro Tulante took a broader approach, first explaining why the city’s policies square with federal law, then making the case for guaranteeing crime victims and witnesses that their citizenship will remain private.

In fact, he argued, the only illegal thing about this process was the Justice Department’s “arbitrary and capricious” demand for him to justify the city’s policies.

The strangest reply of the bunch may be the response from Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret C. Daun, who explained that while the county’s policies limiting cooperation with ICE don’t violate federal law, the issue is moot because Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. routinely skirts county rules to help ICE anyway.

The county policies, she wrote, “cannot legally bind the Sheriff and are therefore more properly characterized as aspirational statements of belief.”

All the jurisdictions on the list had policies against honoring ICE detainers – requests to hold inmates beyond their release date so that immigration officials can come arrest them – although officials in Miami and Las Vegas have recently changed course and resumed holding people at ICE’s request.

Federal law doesn’t currently require jails to honor the detainers, but that would change under a bill passed by the House of Representatives Thursday. If the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act becomes law, it would set up a new conflict with local governments that don’t honor detainers, and with courts that have said the detainer system is unconstitutional.

Separately this week, the Trump administration submitted its motion to dismiss a federal suit against the president’s executive order that would strip funding from sanctuary cities. Another executive order, limiting travel from six majority-Muslim countries, took partial effect Thursday evening; while the Supreme Court considers a challenge to that order, justices agreed to let the government implement the ban for travelers without family in the U.S.

Patrick Michels can be reached at pmichels@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickMichels.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for Reveal, covering immigration. His coverage focuses on immigration courts and legal access, privatization in immigration enforcement, and the government's care for unaccompanied children. He contributed to Reveal's award-winning project on indigenous land rights disputes created by oil pipelines. Previously, he was a staff writer at the Texas Observer, where his work included an investigation into corruption at the Department of Homeland Security and how the state's broken guardianship system allowed elder abuse to go unchecked. Michels was a Livingston Award finalist for his investigation into the deadly armored car industry. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where his work focused on government contractors grappling with trauma and injuries from their time in Iraq. Michels is based in Austin, Texas.