Attorney General Jeff Sessions, left, shakes hands with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer as he tours the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona, in April. Sessions' Justice Department has argued that a federal judge in San Francisco should dismiss a challenge to the administration's order cracking down on sanctuary cities. Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Attorneys for the city of San Francisco pushed back on the Trump administration’s latest attempt to salvage its sanctuary cities ban Tuesday, arguing that the Justice Department’s new definition of “sanctuary” doesn’t alter the basic facts of the case.

On May 22, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo that narrowly defined so-called sanctuary jurisdictions as those that refused to communicate with federal immigration officials, and exempted cities and counties that refused to keep people at the request of immigration authorities.

The new definition addressed one criticism made by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in March, when he blocked President Donald Trump’s plan to withhold money from sanctuary cities. Orrick had noted that “does not define ‘sanctuary jurisdiction,’ ” and “the term is not defined anywhere in the Executive Order.”

Immediately after Sessions issued his memo, the Justice Department asked Orrick to reconsider his decision to block the order. The department argued that the court must take a fresh look at the executive order in light of Sessions’ new definition.

In a court filing Tuesday, the city of San Francisco disagreed, urging Orrick to “reject (the Justice Department’s) attempt to save this unsalvageable and unconstitutional Executive Order.”

For one thing, the city argues, Sessions’ memo is only directed at certain grant programs within the Justice Department; it doesn’t affect how other agencies might choose to define a “sanctuary city.” Recognizing Sessions’ ability to make such a decision for other departments “would be a significant, unprecedented, and unauthorized expansion of the Attorney General’s powers,” the city argues.

If the Trump administration really wanted to adjust to Orrick’s injunction, it should have drafted a new, narrower executive order, as it did after judges blocked the president’s ban on travel from several majority-Muslim countries. Sessions’ memo, the city argues, doesn’t alter the text of Trump’s executive order.

This latest salvo in Trump’s war on sanctuary cities comes just after a string of tweets from the president suggesting he’s upset with Sessions’ handling of the travel ban defense. On Monday, Trump tweeted that he’d always preferred his original executive order – a broader travel ban that explicitly favored Christians entering the country – over the “watered down, politically correct version” devised by the Justice Department.

As in that case, plaintiffs in the sanctuary cities argue that the president’s tweets undercut the arguments his lawyers have made in court.

As San Francisco city attorneys noted in their filing on Tuesday, despite Sessions’ determination that the ban would only affect a handful of grants across the country, Trump has called his order a “weapon” to coerce cities into abandoning their sanctuary policies or risk being “defunded.”

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.