LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, others boycott White House meeting over sanctuary cities threat

WASHINGTON (KABC) -- Mayors across the country, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, announced they would boycott a planned meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump Wednesday.

The announcement came after the Justice Department warned sanctuary cities that they could be legally forced to prove they are cooperating with federal immigration authorities in order to receive public safety grant money.

Department officials sent letters to 23 jurisdictions threatening to issue subpoenas if the city does not willingly relinquish documents showing they are not withholding information about citizenship or immigration status about a person in custody.

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."

At the White House meeting, Trump said the Justice Department had announced "a critical legal step to hold accountable sanctuary cities that violate federal law and free criminal aliens back into our communities."

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.

"They're going to do what they're going to do, and I have to do what I believe is right," Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said in an interview with ABC7. "And I believe that we are complying with federal law and doing it in a way that makes L.A. safer."

During a press conference, Garcetti called the Justice Department's letter "pure politics" and that he and other mayors care about their cities.

"Each one of the mayors up here cares more about the public safety of our people than anybody living outside of our cities. There is not a single mayor in this country who says please, if you're a criminal, come on over. And if you're undocumented, bonus points. This is a myth, and it's pure politics. Let's be clear about what this is, it's the politics of distraction and destruction," he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet that he would not be attending the meeting, which was focused on discussing infrastructure, drug addiction and other such topics.

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.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White house has been very clear that it doesn't support sanctuary cities and supports enforcing and following the law. "If mayors have a problem with that, they should talk to the Congress, the people that pass the laws. The Department of Justice enforces them, and as long as that is the law, the Department of Justice is going to strongly enforce it."

As for the mayors, she said the White House would love to work with them, "but we cannot allow people to pick and choose what laws they want to follow."

"If we have a country with no laws, then nothing matters," Sanders added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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