By Rick Sallinger & Stan Bush
DENVER (CBS4/AP)– The Department of Justice has threatened the City of Denver and 22 other locations with a subpoena in the latest challenge to what the White House sees as “sanctuary cities.”
Federal authorities say they want proof Denver isn’t withholding information about the immigration status of people now in custody.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has responded to the sanctuary cities threat in a tweet and a refusal to an invitation to the White House.
The DOJ warned the cities they could be legally forced to prove they are cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
President Donald Trump addressed Mayors at the White House.
“As you know the Department of Justice has announced a crucial legal step,” he said.
Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez wasn’t surprised at the request.
“This is nothing new. The Trump administration has been in the habit of intimidating and bullying cities,” he told CBS4.
Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez says the threats from the Trump Administration and the Department of Justice over deportations have made undocumented residents less likely to call police if they’ve witnessed a crime, making communities less safe.
“That’s really what this does,” said Lopez. “It unravels the very fabric of our community.
Lopez says managing concerns over deportations has become the priority in his community outreach meetings, instead of the normal business of council.
“My job changed last year because people are afraid to even report a pothole. That may sound out there but it’s true,” said Lopez.
Denver’s City Attorney Kristin Bronson says the city is reviewing the DOJ request for documentation and considering filing a lawsuit if a subpoena is issued and federal funds are withheld.
“We don’t believe that threat has a strong legal foundation,” said Bronson.
The move prompted immediate backlash, with mayors from across the country, including Hancock, announcing they would boycott a planned meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon.
Hancock released this statement: “This is a destructive ploy by the Trump Administration’s lawyers to politicize a routine exchange of information. We will repeat what we have said time and again, Denver does not violate section 1373 and complies with all federal laws. These threats are blatant attempts to distract the American people from the real news, namely that the Mueller investigation is turning up the heat on a dysfunctional presidency.
“Denver won’t back down. We are joined by dozens of other communities, resolute in opposing chaotic and poorly reasoned overreach by Attorney General Sessions and we will not stand down from doing what is right. There are hundreds of Mayors in DC who have been invited by Trump to the White House today. I refuse to meet with the President under these kinds of threats and fearmongering.
“As a reminder to our community, every step we take and the role of our law enforcement is to maintain the highest level of safety for all our people including our immigrants.”
The President made mention of the mayors who boycotted the event.
“The mayors who have chosen to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal illegal immigrants over law abiding Americans,” he said.
In April 2017, Denver police released a statement calling immigration enforcement beyond their legal scope: Immigration enforcement is handled at the federal level – not by local law enforcement. The Denver Police Department has not participated in those enforcement efforts in the past and will not be involved in the future.
Officials sent letters to roughly two dozen jurisdictions threatening to issue subpoenas if they don’t willingly relinquish documents showing they aren’t withholding information about the citizenship or immigration status of people in custody. The department has repeatedly threatened to deny millions of dollars in important grant money to communities that refuse to comply with a federal statute requiring information-sharing with federal authorities, as part of the Trump administration’s promised crackdown on cities and states that refuse to help enforce U.S. immigration laws.
The move angered members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors who had been set to meet with Trump on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure, drug addiction and other topics.
Councilman Paul Kashmann took strong issue with the White House.
“Our immigrants are our own people and we care about all of them,” he said.
The city has agreed to notify immigration agents of pending releases, but cooperation does not go far beyond that.
The Denver City Attorney’s office is reviewing the White House’s request. If it says no, a subpoena could be followed with an effort to cut off federal funds.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)