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Top US Officials Jeff Sessions And John Kelly Visit San Diego-Tijuana Border

Credit: Katie Schoolov

Above: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly visit the San Diego-Tijuana border, April 21, 2017.

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.

RELATED: US Prosecutors Are Geared To Target Border Crossers

"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."

Immigrant advocates argue that sanctuary policies make cities safer by encouraging people to report crimes, even if they are in the country illegally. San Diego's leaders have never called the city a sanctuary city, but the police department won't report crime witnesses just because of their immigration status.

KPBS asked Sessions if he believed law enforcement agencies should report crime witnesses and victims who are in the country illegally. Sessions didn't answer the question directly, but said the federal government's focus was on people who have committed serious crimes.

"We're talking about (the police) having arrested somebody for a serious offense and we're asking them simply to tell the federal government that they've apprehended this person who is subject to deportation," he said.

Kelly added that if law enforcement agencies cooperated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in this way, then the agency wouldn't have to go into neighborhoods and courthouses to make arrests.

He added that if immigrants who fear authorities want to report crimes, they can do so by calling 9-1-1 anonymously.

RELATED: Border Agency Fields Pitches For Trump’s Wall With Mexico

Earlier in the day, about 80 people gathered for a protest rally near the San Ysidro Port of Entry to speak out against the officials' visit.

“We are very concerned about the war-mongering that the Trump administration has been using when top officials come to border communities," said Christian Ramirez, human rights director for Alliance San Diego.

Ramirez said he was also upset because the officials declined to meet with immigrant rights organizations such as his own.

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.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Immigrants-rights activists hold signs during a demonstration during the visit of U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Secretary John Kelly at the San Diego-Tijuana border, April 21, 2017.

"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.

"We are very concerned who we are as people on borderlands,” said Christian Ramirez, human rights director at Alliance San Diego.

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Chalkboards at an immigrant-rights rally hold suggestions on what border communities need instead of a wall, April 21, 2017.

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.

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