SAN DIEGO -- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a visit to San Diego, Friday urged cities and other government jurisdictions with immigration sanctuary policies to reconsider and work with federal law enforcement to identify criminals who should be deported.
The Justice Department sent letters to the state of California, Cook County, Illinois, and the cities of Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia that demand they provide legal justification for non-cooperation by June 30 or risk the loss of federal funding.
"Sanctuary jurisdictions put criminals back on the streets," Sessions said in a news conference, in which he detailed the dangers posed by criminal street gangs.
"They help these gangs to refill their ranks, and puts innocent life -- including the lives of countless law-abiding immigrants -- in danger by refusing to share vital information with federal law enforcement," Sessions said.
The attorney general observed border and immigration detention operations along with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin.
Kelly reiterated that the federal government will strengthen enforcement along the border.
"We will continue to expand our approach to deterring illegal migration," Kelly said. "That includes constructing a physical barrier, supporting it with technology and patrolling it with a dedicated and professional workforce."
"It also includes our approach of prosecuting anyone who pays traffickers to smuggle people into the country -- especially those who smuggle in children, including family members here," he said. "Human smuggling across our border puts individuals -- especially children -- at great risk of assault, abuse and even death at the hands of smuggler and coyotes."
He said he and Sessions wanted nothing more than to "put human smugglers out of business" and "end the flow of illegal migration."
The tour of the border area began Thursday in El Paso, where community leaders objected to Sessions' remarks in which he called the border a "beachhead," which implies hostile territory, and as "ground zero' against cartels and transnational gangs, the El Paso Times reported.
By using language that connotes a war almost, by calling it a beachhead, by saying this is ground zero, this language causes incredible harm to our community. That language and that attitude and that rhetoric is un- American," El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar said as reported by the newspaper.
Immigrant rights advocates rallied in San Ysidro, where they wrote messages on chalkboards and created sidewalk art.
Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said border communities are among the safest in the country.
"For them to come here and describe us as `beachheads' and `ground zero' of an imaginary war is not only an affront to our dignity, but it goes against the very basic values of a democratic society," said Ramirez, also the human rights director of the community group Alliance San Diego.
"In a democratic society there is no room for militarization or boots on the ground in our communities," he said. "We live in the 21st century, and this administration cannot continue to propose 14th-century ideas like building walls and sending troops into our communities."
He said the officials are "pushing the rhetoric of war in a time of peace, in a place of peace."
Sessions and Kelly should talk to community leaders, business people and entrepreneurs so they can better understand what's real and what is fantasy, Ramirez said.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, who represents the area, said in a statement that Sessions "saw firsthand that our community is determined to resist the hateful, bigoted and unjust policies his Justice Department is trying to impose on us."
"His warped and delusional views on immigration just don't match the reality that our community is filled with hard-working, law-abiding patriots who reject this administration's divisive agenda," Gonzalez Fletcher said.
The assemblywoman has authored legislation that would make the state divest from companies that assist in building a wall along the border.
At the news conference, Sessions rejected any notion of a racial intent to stronger immigration enforcement.