Feds Can’t Tie Grant Money to Sanctuary-City Disavowal

FILE – In this June 26, 2017, file photo, Lydia Balderas, left, and Merced Leyua, right, join others as they protest against a new sanctuary cities bill outside the federal courthouse in San Antonio. President Donald Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” that limit cooperation with immigration authorities is unconstitutional, but a judge went too far when he blocked its enforcement nationwide, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Aug. 1. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Rejecting an appeal by the Trump administration, the Third Circuit ruled Friday that the government punished so-called sanctuary cities by withholding federal grant money.

The government brought the appeal here after U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson concluded in June that the Justice Department overstepped in imposing conditions on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant that were “arbitrary and capricious”. 

Though Philadelphia had been receiving the Byrne JAG every year since the program was created in 2006, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year that the funds would not be disbursed unless cities provided immigration officials access to prisoners and suspects, shared a person’s immigration status and provided the government advance notice before releasing an undocumented immigrant from prison. 

Affirming that decision Friday, U.S Circuit Marjorie Judge Rendell wrote for a three-judge panel that the authority of the attorney general to monitor and review grantees’ financial and programs information is limited. On top of that, there are few circumstances where the attorney general can withhold or re-allocate funds. 

Rendell also wrote that Congress structured the Byrne JAG as a formula grant, which allows that grant to be awarded based on population and violent crime statistics. 

“Allowing the attorney general to withhold all funds because a jurisdiction does not certify compliance with any federal law of the attorney general’s choosing undermines the predictability and consistency embedded in the program’s design, thus turning the formula grant 30 into a discretionary one,” the 34-page opinion states.

The court did reverse the Baylson ruling in part Friday, calling it an abuse of discretion to require the government to get a judicial warrant to transfer an undocumented immigrant to federal custody.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney applauded the ruling, which protects the city’s $1.6 million grant.

“Philadelphia is proud to be a city that welcomes all of those who seek safe haven, and this ruling affirms our right to do so,” Kenney said in a statement. “The conditions imposed by the DOJ were an unconscionable attempt to bully the city and its residents into changing our policies.” 

Representatives for the Justice Department did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In a separate federal court ruling in the Central District of California, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real issued a nationwide injunction saying the Justice Department can’t impose civil conditions on cities that want to receive grants to pay for certain law enforcement programs.

Coinciding with the decisions Friday, President Donald Trump announced that he would declare a national emergency to get money for his wall on the southern border. 

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