MANHATTAN (CN) – Rejecting the government’s attempts to tie public-safety grants to immigration policy, a federal judge handed a victory Friday to New York City and six states with sanctuary jurisdictions.
“This case is fundamentally about the separation of powers among the branches of our government and the interplay of dual sovereign authorities in our federalist system,” U.S. District Judge Edgaro Ramos wrote in the order, granting a permanent injunction against three conditions that had been put on the funding.
The Justice Department had announced the restrictions in July 2017 under then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying any cities and states that refuse to help federal agents detain undocumented immigrants at local jails would lose out on $385 million in justice assistance grants. JAG grants, as they are known, are named for slain New York City police officer Eddie Byrne.
Together with New York City, which has its own sanctuary policy, the Empire State, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington and Massachusetts stood to lose a total of $25 million under the new federal scheme. The coalition cast the policy as unconstitutional in a federal lawsuit, and New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood applauded Ramos on Friday for striking it down.
“Today’s decision is a major win for New Yorkers’ public safety,” Underwood said in a statement. “As we argued, local law enforcement has the right to decide how to meet their local public safety needs – and the Trump administration simply does not have the right to require state and local police to act as federal immigration agents. The Trump administration’s attempt to withhold these vital funds was nothing more than a political attack at the expense of our public safety.”
In exchange for Byrne JAG funding, the Justice Department had tried to make it mandatory for state and local correctional facilities to notify the Department of Homeland Security before they release aliens from detention; to work with federal agents who want to question detained immigrants about their statuses; and to comply with a statute that prohibited them from restricting officials from talking to immigration authorities.
As a sanctuary city, New York limits the cooperation that it provides federal immigration authorities. The coalition’s lawsuit noted that cooperation between federal and state authorities on deportation activities causes immigrant communities to “retreat into the shadows, to the detriment of their own safety and that of the public.”
“Crime reporting in many immigrant communities dropped precipitously in the wake of the current administration’s sweeping executive order instructing law enforcement agencies to target more immigrants for deportation, encouraging state and local government participation in federal immigration enforcement, and unilaterally withdrawing all federal funding from whatever jurisdictions the attorney general deemed ‘sanctuary jurisdictions,’” the lawsuit said.
Ramos agreed that the policy represents “an irreparable ‘constitutional injury’ that cannot be adequately compensated by monetary damages.”
He said the challengers also proved that “complying with the unlawful conditions would undermine trust between immigrant communities and local government, which would discourage individuals from reporting crimes, cooperating with investigations, and obtaining medical services, thereby harming public safety and welfare.”
Finding that the Department of Justice did not have the “authority to impose the three conditions on federal funding,” Ramos noted that Congress made no condition on the funds, nor did it grant that “power of the purse” to the Executive Branch.
Ramos granted relief only to the plaintiffs, finding they had not made a good enough argument for a nationwide injunction blocking the policy.
The Department of Justice did not comment, but both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and city corporation counsel Zachary Carter issued statements.
“The courts have spoken: President Trump’s attempt to bully our city into enforcing his draconian immigration policies is unconstitutional,” de Blasio said Friday afternoon. “Unlike Trump’s fact-free claims to the contrary, by welcoming immigrant communities we have helped make this the safest big city in the country. This is a great victory, and we will never stop fighting on behalf of immigrant New Yorkers.”
Carter emphasized that the city “could not be more pleased with the court’s decision.”
“The Department of Justice sought to impose grant conditions that would undermine city policies that have proven effective in enhancing public safety by encouraging all of its residents to engage with local law enforcement without fear of adverse immigration law consequences,” Carter said.