By Sarah N. Lynch and Makini Brice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice ramped up its fight against states and municipalities that adopt “sanctuary” policies to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation, with new lawsuits against the state of New Jersey and King County, Washington.
The moves on Monday follow a freeze on new enrollment and renewals in certain “trusted traveler” programs for New York state residents, which was announced last week.
“Today is a significant escalation in the federal government’s efforts to confront the resistance of ‘sanctuary cities’,” Attorney General William Barr said in prepared remarks to a National Sheriffs’ Association conference.
President Donald Trump has made harsher immigration policies a focus of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign. He has repeatedly called out “sanctuary” jurisdictions for not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement, including during his State of the Union speech last week.
The lawsuit against New Jersey asks a court to block a directive that limits cooperation by New Jersey law enforcement officers with federal immigration enforcement.
The lawsuit against King County, where Seattle is located, targets an executive order that restricts the use of the county airport for the deportation of immigration detainees.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal criticized the lawsuit, calling it an “election year stunt.”
“It’s no surprise that the president, facing re-election, has suddenly decided to challenge a policy we first announced in 2018,” Grewal said.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said Trump and Barr were “bullying King County for being a welcoming community that respects the rights of all people.”
Barr said the Justice Department would support the Department of Homeland Security in its attempts to obtain information it needs, including using federal subpoenas.
His department is also reviewing the actions of certain district attorneys whom he accused of “charging foreign nationals with lesser offenses for the express purpose of avoiding the federal immigration consequences.”
Earlier, New York state sued the Trump administration to void the ‘trusted traveler’ enrollment freeze, which blocks hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers from enrolling in federal programs that help travelers speed through airport security lines and borders, describing the ban as political punishment.
The administration put in place the suspension last week in response to New York’s passage last year of a so-called Green Light law that allows unauthorized immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses and limits federal immigration authorities from accessing records from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
State officials said the ban would undermine public safety and cause economic harm by slowing travel.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Makini Brice, Ted Hesson and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Leslie Adler, Dan Grebler and Himani Sarkar)