Feds Lose Another Attempt to Squash Sanctuary Laws

Protesters hold up signs outside a courthouse in San Francisco on April 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

(CN) – A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to immediately release law enforcement grants to Oregon without conditioning the money on its demand that the state violate voter-approved sanctuary laws by handing undocumented immigrants over to the Department of Homeland Security.

The federal government withheld two years of money from the congressionally funded Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant – about $2 million per year that the state uses to bolster its law enforcement coffers.

Though the government released the funds one week before a hearing on its motion to dismiss this case, lawyers for the Oregon said the state couldn’t use the money because it was still tied to new requirements that it allow the Department of Homeland Security to access all local detention facilities and provide the federal government with 48 hours’ notice of an undocumented immigrant’s scheduled release from jail.

That’s no longer the case, in the wake of a ruling issued late Wednesday night. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ordered the Trump administration to release the grant money without such conditions. McShane also permanently barred the government from future attempts to link the grant money to its immigration enforcement rules.

A similar case is pending in the Ninth Circuit, after a San Francisco judge found that the attorney general lacks the authority to impose such restrictions on recipients of Byrne JAG grants. Judges in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals have issued analogous rulings.

McShane continued that trend.

“The Court agrees with plaintiffs, as well as every other court to have examined the issue, that defendants lack the delegated authority to impose the notice and access conditions,” he wrote.

The government’s demands were a clear violation of the Tenth Amendment, McShane wrote, which gives states powers not constitutionally reserved for the federal government. They were also illegal under the language of the law governing the grant’s distribution.

Further, McShane noted, the grant is nondiscretionary and doled out based on a precise mathematical formula designated by Congress.

“On its face, the statute indisputably does not authorize the Attorney General to place conditions on the recipients of Byrne JAG funds or withhold funds allocated under the statutory formula,” McShane wrote.

He declined to make his injunction apply nationwide, as Oregon had asked, finding that the state and the city of Portland would have their issues resolved if his order applied only to them.

The government claimed that Oregon was “actively thwarting” the enforcement of federal immigration law. At a July 26 hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Mauler told McShane that the “special conditions” the Trump administration sought to tie to the grant money would make Oregon safer by increasing deportations.

“The special conditions are designed and intended to identify deportable criminal aliens. Because that person is not here to reoffend, crime is reduced even if it’s only by one person, crime is prevented,” Mauler said at the hearing.

Numerous studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to break the law than citizens, and that deporting more people does not reduce an area’s rate of crime.

In his ruling, McShane called the government’s argument “a red herring” and refuted it by quoting another federal judge’s ruling that squashed the Trump administration’s attempt to challenge California’s sanctuary laws.

“Although a state or locality’s decision to refrain from assisting in federal enforcement may frustrate the efforts of immigration authorities, ‘standing aside does not equate to standing in the way,’” he wrote.

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