Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department announced it is suing local and state governments in California, New Jersey and Washington state over laws the Trump administration says shelter criminals who have entered the country illegally.
The department announced the three separate lawsuits Monday, as U.S. Attorney General William Barr told those in attendance for the National Sheriff's Association winter conference that "progressive" politicians were jeopardizing the public's safety through so-called sanctuary laws.
"They have put in place policies and laws designed to thwart the ability of federal officers to take custody of these criminals and thereby help them escape back into the community," Barr said. "They often proudly brand their jurisdictions as 'sanctuaries' and package their obstructive policies in idealist and misleading rhetoric about 'protecting the immigrant community.'"
The Justice Department filed a suit against California, its governor and its attorney general in a challenge to a law prohibiting private prisons, including those run by federal agencies, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
And in King County, Wash., where Seattle is located, it sued the county and its chief executive over an executive order prohibiting its international airport from being used for deporting immigration detainees.
Barr accused these policies in his speech of having nothing to do with protecting those who enter the country illegally and live here peacefully but were made to allow "criminal aliens" to escape justice.
"Their express purpose is to shelter aliens whom local law enforcement has already arrested for other crimes," he said. "This is neither lawful nor sensible."
In the California complaint, the Justice Department said the law banning private prisons will force the federal government to relocate prisoners and detainees at great expense.
"The U.S. Marshals Service, for example, which is responsible for the housing and transportation of federal prisoners awaiting trial and sentencing, will need to relocate nearly 50 percent of its inmates in the Southern District of California and nearly 30 percent of its total California inmates to out-of-state facilities," the Justice Department said.
In New Jersey, it said the directive that limits the sharing of information on immigration status and release dates of detainees caused state officials to repeatedly fail to provide the information concerning non-U.S. citizens who had been charged with or convicted of crimes.
In 2018 when the directive was issued, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said it was intended to build trust between local law enforcement and immigration communities.
Grewal said in a letter to all enforcement chief executives that the federal government has increasingly relied upon local police to enforce federal immigration law, which instills fear in the immigration community while hindering local law enforcement for solving crimes.
"Put simply, New Jersey's law enforcement officers protect the public by investigating state criminal offenses and enforcing state criminal laws. They are not responsible for enforcing civil immigration violations," he said.
Following Monday's announcement, he accused President Donald Trump of attacking immigration as he is facing re-election in November.
"What's disappointing is that my former colleagues at the Justice Department have agreed to go along with this election year stunt," Grewal said in a statement.
King County Executive Dow Constantine accused Barr of "bullying" the county for being a "welcoming community."
He said the ordinance requires the county to facilitate immigration directives only when accompanied by a court order.
"Mass deportations raise deeply troubling human rights concerns, including separation of families, racial disproportionality in policing and constitutional issues of due process," he said in a statement. "My Executive Order of April 23, 2019, sought to make King County government practices consistent with our region's values."
All three lawsuits challenge the policies as being unlawful under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that states federal laws generally trump state laws.
"Enforcing a country's immigration laws is an essential function of the national government," Barr said in his speech. "And no national government can enforce those laws properly if state and local governments are getting in the way."