LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Ninth Circuit heard arguments Thursday challenging the Trump administration’s policy of withholding law enforcement funding for “sanctuary cities” that limit cooperation between local police and federal immigration enforcement.
The Department of Justice is challenging U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s July 27 permanent injunction on the federal government’s restrictive conditions for the policing program grants.
In a 2-1 vote on Aug. 1, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a decision to prevent the DOJ from pulling funding over sanctuary state policies. The panel also pulled the nationwide injunction, limiting it only to the individual challengers of the policy.
DOJ attorney Jesse Panuccio argued that the government reserves the right to oversee the grant process with “considerable constraint” over the conditions that grantees operate under.
The agency has said in court papers that it has the right to prioritize “certain policy areas of particular importance to the federal government,” such as enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The city of Los Angeles filed two lawsuits against the DOJ, claiming it is being cut off from local policing grants for refusing to help enforce federal immigration laws.
U.S. Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw asked if the agency had considered whether forcing local police to enforce federal immigration laws could have a harmful effect on communities.
Wardlaw also said that local jurisdictions may be put at a “competitive disadvantage” for grants if they oppose collaboration with immigration authorities.
Panuccio said “illegal immigration” qualifies as a “social disorder” and a public safety issue that is considered in grant applications.
U.S. Circuit Judge Jay Bybee asked if the agency could point to specific documentation that demonstrates the vetting process for including federal immigration enforcement guidelines in grant applications.
Panuccio said the office overseeing the Community Oriented Policing Strategies Hiring Program grant decide the focus areas.
Los Angeles receives about $1 million in federal funds each year from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which pays for local prosecutors and anti-gang programming.
Panuccio said the grants foment partnerships that center on the concept of “community-oriented policing.” He said the collaboration is critical since immigration is “not solely a federal issue.”
Under the Trump administration’s policy, Los Angeles is required to comply with federal immigration policies – including allowing immigration agents into correctional facilities to check on the status of inmates and informing the government 48 hours before an immigrant is released from local custody — to receive that funding.
David Zionts of Covington & Burling, representing LA, said Thursday the city has determined it is safer when local law enforcement is not entangled with federal immigration operations.
U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta asked Zionts how immigration enforcement is different from any other focus area set out by the federal government such as human trafficking prevention or drug law enforcement.
“I would distinguish drug law enforcement from immigration enforcement,” Zionts said, adding that cooperation with federal law enforcement has never been at the core of what the grant program is about.
“The feds say they will give you a leg up in the competition for grants if you play ball with the Department of Homeland Security,” Zionts said. “We haven’t seen specific guidelines or statutory obligations” outlined by the grant application.
The agency has said in court filings that the city “misunderstands” the concept of community-oriented policing which focuses on “preventing rather than reacting to crime through engagement with the community.”
Judge Bybee asked whether Zionts was basing his argument on the claim that the grant restrictions are unconstitutional or extra statutory.
Zionts said the restrictions are ultra vires, or outside of the agency’s legal authority.
He said he wouldn’t maintain the same argument if the agency expanded guidelines to include “bonus points” for programs that engage in human trafficking prevention or veteran hiring.
The case is under submission.