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Attorney General says four 'sanctuary cities' may be violating the law

By Sarah N. Lynch and Mica Rosenberg

By Sarah N. Lynch and Mica Rosenberg

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States Justice Department singled out four cities and a county on Thursday for allegedly having so-called "sanctuary policies" that may violate a federal law which requires them to communicate with federal immigration officials about a person's citizenship status.

The department said Thursday that New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, and Cook County in Illinois along with its largest city Chicago, "have preliminarily been found" to have policies that violate the law. It is giving those jurisdictions until Oct. 27 to provide evidence demonstrating compliance.

If the government finds the cities and county are violating the statute that calls for information sharing with federal immigration officials, it could decide to cut federal funds for law enforcement.

The Justice Department said it had found no evidence that four other jurisdictions - Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, Clark County, Nevada, Miami-Dade County, Florida and the State of Connecticut - were in violation of the statue, known as Section 1373.

The determinations came after the Justice Department earlier in the year had asked several local jurisdictions to detail their compliance with the law in order to make a determination about their eligibility for certain federal grants.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the cities still in the department's crosshairs "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."

The sanctuary jurisdictions say they are following the law and do not want to spend local resources on immigration enforcement.

The disputes center on the jurisdictions compliance with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "detainer" requests, sent to local authorities when ICE wants to hold people in custody up to 48 hours and beyond when they are supposed to be released so immigration officials can pick them up.

Some cities say they will only honor detainers accompanied by criminal warrants and say that compliance with the requests is voluntary and not required under the statute.

Seth Stein, a spokesman for New York City, said the mayor's office was "prepared to fight to protect critical public safety funding."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)