SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The state of California on Wednesday slapped the U.S. Justice Department with a federal lawsuit, seeking to pry loose records on its decision to cut grants to cities and states that refuse to help enforce federal immigration laws.
The state filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Sept. 8, seeking all records related to new eligibility requirements for the $385 million Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program.
The grant provides federal funds for criminal justice to state, local and tribal jurisdictions.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions first announced in July that the Justice Department would no longer award criminal justice grants to jurisdictions that deny immigration agents access to local jails or fail to give 48-hour notice before releasing undocumented immigrants from jail.
Another condition requires that cities, counties and states certify their compliance with a federal law that bans state and local laws that restrict sharing an individual’s immigration status with federal authorities.
“The State is concerned with [the Office of Justice Program]’s lack of transparency in explaining the need for these conditions, how these conditions relate to the purpose that Congress intended when creating the [Justice Assistance Grant] program, and OJP’s purported authority for imposing these conditions,” California’s nine-page complaint states.
The Justice Department failed to turn over the requested records within a 30-day period that was extended due to “unusual circumstances,” according to the lawsuit.
California stands to lose $31 million in funding if the federal government cuts off criminal justice grants to the state. The city of San Francisco would lose $1.4 million.
“The State is concerned that OJP did not consider the harm that compliance with these conditions may cause to some state and local jurisdictions that have determined such policies would undermine trust and cooperation between law enforcement and their residents, and therefore, public safety in their jurisdictions,” the lawsuit claims.
“Federal authorities have a clear legal obligation to respond to our FOIA request, and California will stand its ground until we have answers,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Wednesday.
Last month, the Justice Department threatened 23 cities, counties and states – including California and San Francisco – with subpoenas if they fail to turn over documents proving they cooperate with immigration authorities.
In September 2017, a federal judge in Chicago blocked two of the three new grant requirements, finding Sessions exceeded his authority by requiring that jurisdictions let federal agents access local jails and that they give 48-hours notice before releasing undocumented immigrants.
The state of California has also challenged the new funding conditions in a separate case in federal court in San Francisco.
Last fall, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of bills into law that essentially made California a “Sanctuary State,” establishing safe zones around schools, courts and hospitals, and limiting state and local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
San Francisco has had similar “sanctuary city” policies in place since 1989.
The state and city say their policies fully comply with federal law, which only requires that state and local governments not prohibit employees from disclosing an individual’s immigration status to federal agents upon request.
The Justice Department has argued that the statute – Section 1373 of Title 8 in the U.S. Code of Laws – applies more broadly to sharing the addresses and jail release dates of undocumented immigrants.
Cities and states that have adopted sanctuary policies say they make communities safer because undocumented immigrants are not afraid to report crimes or cooperate with police due to fear of deportation. But Sessions argues such policies make communities less safe by protecting undocumented criminals.
“When cities like Philadelphia, Boston or San Francisco advertise that they have these policies, the criminals take notice,” Sessions said at a speech to law enforcement officers in Las Vegas in July 2017. “These jurisdictions are protecting criminals that under the law should be deported.”
In November, a federal judge in San Francisco permanently enjoined one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders, which more broadly authorized the federal government to cut off funding to so-called sanctuary cities.
The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.