Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- French Quarter riverfront and skyline. File photos of aerials of New Orleans area and landmarks shot July 23, 2013.

John McCusker

New Orleans is one of several jurisdictions that will have to prove to President Donald Trump's administration that it's complying with federal immigration law, according to a letter the Department of Justice sent to those communities Friday as it moves toward a crackdown on so-called "sanctuary cities."

But city officials said New Orleans' inclusion on the list appears to stem from a policy that has since been substantially revised and that now explicitly requires compliance with the federal law that the Trump administration is calling on communities to prove that they are not violating.

"If anybody in the Trump administration would actually do some research before firing off letters, they would see that the City of New Orleans has already provided the Department of Justice documentation that shows we are in compliance with federal immigration laws," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement responding to the DOJ letter.

"This is another example of the Trump administration acting before doing their homework," he added. "We will send all the documents requested by the federal government again, but the NOPD will not be a part of President Trump’s civil deportation force no matter how many times they ask." 

The letter requires the notified communities to certify that they do not prohibit law enforcement personnel from passing along information about an individual's immigration status to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Otherwise, the cities risk losing federal grant money. New Orleans gets between $3.2 million and $3.7 million in grants from the Department of Justice each year. 

"We welcome the letter. The New Orleans Police Department's policy complies with federal law. We’re not a sanctuary city. There has been no other policy in the country that’s been more rigorously reviewed than New Orleans’ policy," said Zach Butterworth, the city's federal lobbyist. "We think it’s made the city safer."

"We look forward to responding to the attorney general. We’ll get a letter turned around quickly," he added. "We don’t think there’s any concern for the NOPD."

The letters sent Friday were aimed at jurisdictions the Department of Justice inspector general previously identified as having rules limiting the information that can be provided to federal immigration authorities.

Besides New Orleans, those communities include Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami and Milwaukee. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also received a letter. 

The inspector general's report, written last May, referred to a version of the NOPD's policy that was put in place as part of the federal consent decree that governs the department's operations.

That policy was revised in September in response to the report, specifically to clarify that officers are not barred from communicating with immigration officials and to require compliance with federal law.

Police are instructed, however, not to ask about immigration status in the course of investigations. Local officials say that policy is crucial to building trust with immigrant communities and encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward.

"The political rhetoric is through the roof right now. Our policy is based on reducing violence on the streets of New Orleans. You have a lot of politicians saying that sanctuary cities are bad and New Orleans is one of them, but you don’t hear any experts on violence reduction saying, 'Chief Harrison, that policy is bad on the streets,' " Butterworth said. 

Friday's letter is the latest step by the Trump administration to ratchet up pressure on cities, including New Orleans, that it has said are being uncooperative with federal immigration enforcement efforts. 

New Orleans and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office both were put in March on a list of more than 100 communities that "limit cooperation" with the government on immigration enforcement, which was seen as a potential first step in targeting and stripping communities of funding. 

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The report cited more than 200 cases, including one in New Orleans, in which it said local authorities did not comply with requests from ICE to detain undocumented immigrants for potential deportation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​