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Justice Department Narrows Possible Sanctions for Sanctuary Cities

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday that local governments refusing to cooperate in deporting convicted criminals risk losing their Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security grants.

Sessions issued a memo in response to an executive order issued by President Trump in late January directing the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to ensure that sanctuary cities will not be eligible to receive federal funds.

Sanctuary Cities: What's at Stake Under Trump Crackdown 1:12

A federal judge last month issued a nationwide injunction on enforcing that part of the executive order after San Francisco said it could lose all its federal grant money.

Related: Court Blunts Trump's Sanctuary Cities Crackdown

But in his memo, Sessions said the order "will be applied solely to federal grants administered by the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security, and not to other sources of federal funding."

Sessions also said he has determined that sanctuary jurisdictions are those that "willfully refuse" to comply with a federal law that bars local governments from prohibiting their law enforcement officers to share information about the immigration status of people in their custody.

Related: Conservative Cities See ‘Sanctuary City’ Term as Scarlet Letter

As a practical matter, the law most often involves detainer requests, issued by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, asking local police and sheriff's offices to hold jail inmates for up to 48 hours after they have completed serving their sentences. The requests apply to people in the U.S. illegally who are convicted of committing local crimes and who are subject to deportation after they are released.

The Sessions memo appears to apply to cities and counties that have passed local laws forbidding their police to tell immigration authorities when a criminal, who is here illegally, is about to be released. It appears not to apply to local governments that fail to abide by the law because of manpower shortages or other reasons short of willful refusal.