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De Blasio, O'Neill Fire Back After DOJ Calls NYC's Policies 'Soft On Crime'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The Trump administration is moving beyond rhetoric in its effort to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The Justice Department is forcing nine communities, including New York City, to prove they are complying with an immigration law by June 30 to continue receiving coveted law enforcement grant money.

It is an extension of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' repeated threats to crack down on sanctuary communities by denying or stripping them of grant money.

The department sent letters Friday to places its inspector general previously identified as having rules limiting the information that can be provided to federal immigration authorities.

Officials there must provide proof from an attorney that they are following the law.

In a press release, the Department of Justice said many of the jurisdictions are "crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime."

"New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's 'soft on crime' stance," the release said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice later clarified, saying "it is New York Cities policies that are soft on crime."

"Unfortunately, the Mayor's policies are hamstringing the brave NYPD officers that protect the city, and only serve to endanger the lives of the hard working men and women of the NYPD who care more about keeping their city and country safe than they do about city hall politics," the spokesperson said.

The mayor's office called it grandstanding and said that it shows the Trump Administration is out of touch with reality, 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported.

Mayor de Blasio's Press Secretary Eric Phillips tweeted, "Yeah, in fact, the NYPD is so soft on crime it has figured out how to prevent it better than anyone else in the nation."

The mayor himself, along with Police Commissioner James O'Neill, had strong reactions Friday evening.

"It is an outrageous statement, and is absurd on its face and ignores a quarter century of progress in this city in bringing down crime," de Blasio said."We did not become the safest big city in America by being soft on crime."

"When I read that statement by the DOJ this afternoon, my blood began to boil," O'Neill said. "To say we're soft on crime is absolutely ludicrous."

"We just had the safest three months in the history of New York City," de Blasio added.

He and O'Neill pointed to statistics to back them up.

Since 1993, they said murders in the city are down 82 percent, shootings down 81 percent and overall crime down 76 percent.

New York City stands to lose millions of dollars in federal grants.

"We've had a disagreement with the mayor over sanctuary city policies," Sessions said Friday.

The attorney general denied knowing about the "soft on crime" comment while touring the Mexican border in California, CBS2's Brian Conybeare reported. However, he pointed out a known MS-13 gang member, in the country illegally, was released from Rikers Island in February.

"When city politicians force local law enforcement to release criminals from Rikers Island, violent gangs and criminals benefit," he said.

"Attorney General Sessions is supposed to be the leading law enforcement official in America. Why would he insult the men and women who do this work every day?" de Blasio said.

The head of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association backed the attorney general in the fight, saying the mayor's sanctuary city policy puts officers in the difficult position of enforcing city regulations while ignoring federal laws.

Mayor Bill de Blasio previously said the city will head to court to fight for the funds the Trump administration said it would deny.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman contends the president doesn't have the constitutional authority to cut funding because cities are lawfully protecting immigrant families, Jones reported.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also remained defiant, saying "Neither the facts, nor the law are on their side."

"Regardless, let me be clear: Chicago's values and Chicago's future are not for sale."

The United States has more than 140 sanctuary jurisdictions, including 37 cities.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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