California Says Feds Still Withholding Public-Safety Grants

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Trump administration is inventing new excuses to sidestep an injunction and cut off grant funds to California for refusing to help deport immigrants, the state claims in a newly filed motion.

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

“These crude attempts to sabotage California law enforcement are dangerous and risk the safety of our communities,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Thursday morning.

In a motion filed Wednesday night, the state claims the U.S. Department of Justice is violating an Oct. 5 federal injunction by withholding $1.5 million in Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN) grants, which promote federal and state cooperation to enforce gun laws and reduce gun violence.

In October, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III permanently barred the Trump administration from withholding policing grants from California based on the state’s refusal to help enforce immigration laws.

In a Nov. 22 email, a Justice Department lawyer told California it was withholding the $1.5 million grant funds because “recent events have created doubt as to California’s willingness and ability to work in full partnership with federal law enforcement officials.”

California says this new explanation is an attempted “end-run” around Orrick’s injunction. The state also argues the basis for denying the grant funds is false because California has cooperated with federal authorities, including a joint operation on Aug. 31 that resulted in the arrest of 20 MS-13 gang members.

Justice Department lawyer Scott Simpson told the state on Nov. 22 that California is not being “singled out” regarding its eligibility to receive PSN grant funds.

“Awards for more than a dozen other jurisdictions are still pending because of concerns about the applicants’ willingness and ability to act in partnership with federal law enforcement,” Simpson said in an email.

According to a Nov. 26 chart detailing PSN grant awards for each federal court district, no funds were awarded to Oregon, California and the Northern and Central Districts of Illinois. A total of $27.7 million was awarded to 86 other jurisdictions.

The Justice Department asserts that with this particular grant, it has broad discretion to decide how much funding should go to states and local governments in each federal court district.

In its motion to enforce judgment, California says the court has already made clear that the Justice Department cannot invent new funding conditions unrelated to the purpose of the grant program.

“As our state begins to heal from the devastating fires, our law enforcement agencies and [California Office of Emergency Services] should be allowed to focus on carrying out their missions, not dealing with threats from the Trump administration,” Becerra said in a statement Thursday. “My office will continue to fight to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have access to critical resources needed to promote public safety.”

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday morning.

A hearing on California’s motion to enforce judgment is scheduled for Dec. 21 in San Francisco.

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