DENVER - Four Colorado Republican lawmakers on Thursday brought their ideas to the White House on punishing so-called sanctuary cities, hoping to build on the Trump administration's lawsuit challenging California laws it says protect immigrants in the country illegally.
State Rep. Dave Williams said he advocated for holding individual cities and their policymakers personally liable during a meeting with the White House Domestic Policy Council. The Colorado Springs Republican says he hopes U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions follows up on the California lawsuit this week with similar legal actions against municipalities.
"These sanctuary communities and politicians are willfully endangering the public," Williams said ahead of the meeting. "Cities like Denver and states like California are allowing criminal aliens to run loose, to kill, murder, maim or hurt our fellow Americans."
Williams said he also called for more immigration agents in Colorado — and that White House advisers were receptive to his suggestions. Lawmakers from Ohio also attended the meeting, he said.
"They want to get tougher. They want to get serious about protecting American citizens," Williams said of administration officials. "I was encouraged. They also suggested we work more closely together to prevent cities from giving criminal gangs like MS-13 safe harbor."
The Democratic mayor of Denver has limited cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Police policy is to notify ICE when immigrants, who are suspected of being in the country illegally, are to be released from city jails, but they refuse to grant access to jail cells. Mayor Michael Hancock and other officials have criticized the presence of ICE agents in courthouses and raids near public schools.
The Trump administration last year threatened to withhold federal funding for police programs in Denver and other sanctuary cities. A federal judge permanently blocked the effort after a lawsuit.
But that didn't stop President Donald Trump from calling for Congress to pass legislation that would strip funding from localities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
"They want the money, they should give up on the sanctuary cities. It harbors horrible criminals," he said Thursday at a White House Cabinet meeting.
Trump also lambasted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for recently warning the public about an unannounced raid by federal immigration officers. Sessions said in a speech in California on Wednesday that Schaaf's action allowed hundreds of "wanted criminals" to avoid arrest.
"What the mayor of Oakland did the other day was a disgrace," Trump said. "And it's certainly something that we're looking at with respect to her individually."
Williams, the Colorado lawmaker who is of Hispanic heritage, has introduced state legislation to make city and law enforcement officials liable for crimes committed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
The measure would allow the victims of such crimes to seek damages from "officials of the jurisdiction who were responsible for creating the policy to operate as a sanctuary jurisdiction." Officials could face up to $700,000 in civil damages.
Democrats and others challenge the legality of Williams' proposal — much like California Gov. Jerry Brown, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others nationwide did in reaction to the Sessions' lawsuit.
Brown says the state is on firm legal ground with laws that limit police and employers' cooperation with federal immigration agents and require state inspections of federal detention facilities.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Washington, Don Thompson in Sacramento and Sudhin Thanawala in San Francisco contributed to this report.