Big city mayors across the country are defying the latest threat to deny federal funding to so-called "sanctuary cities."
On Monday, Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions warned that cities seeking $4 billion in Justice Department grant money must verify their compliance in information sharing with immigration officials.
Sessions also blasted urban leaders that promote policies designed to protect illegal immigrants from deportation. Sessions said that the Trump White House could withhold or "claw back" federal funding from any city that "willfully violates" immigration law.
But city leaders are refusing to back down. "We are going to become this administration's worst nightmare," said Melissa Mark-Viverioto, New York City Council Speaker.
She spoke during a gathering of municipal leaders from cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia. The officials promised to keep blocking cooperation between city police departments and federal immigration authorities. They also promised to continue to block federal authorities from accessing school records and they discussed using subpoenas to turn the tables and investigate federal immigration practices.
In response to Sessions, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel re-affirmed his commitment to continue as a sanctuary city. "I've always seen Chicago as a welcoming city," he told a reporter on Monday.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti warned that withholding federal funding would be unconstitutional. "Slashing funds for first-responders, for our port and airport, for counter terrorism, crime-fighting and community-building serves no one--not this city, not the federal government, not the American people," he said adding "We will work closely with our representatives in Congress to make sure that Los Angeles does not go without federal resources that help protect millions of people every day."
Just last week the president boasted at a Kentucky rally that he would continue to encourage the deportation of illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds. "One by one they're being tracked down and thrown the hell out of our country and we will not let them back in," he said.
Meanwhile, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) is encouraging its 40,000 associated churches to set up shelters for those fearing for their safety because of possible deportation or any other perceived threat.
NHCLC President Samuel Rodriguez says the churches will provide a safe haven for people with a strict "don't ask, don't tell" policy. "We are serving the needs, regardless of their status," he said. "We've never asked for their status."
Rodriguez supports deporting criminals but says that under the President's executive order "terrific people were harmed" noting that many parents have been deported, leaving their children behind.
Federal immigration authorities have followed a "sensitive location" policy for years and have avoided taking custody of illegal immigrants in places like churches, schools and hospitals.