SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Monday refused to order the Trump Administration to pay California $1 million in delayed law enforcement funding it withheld to punish it for becoming a sanctuary state.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled in an afternoon order that it was too soon to tell which party’s interpretation of laws governing cooperation between state employees and federal immigration authorities would prevail. Because “the amount of money at stake is small compared to the state’s budget,” he concluded, California hadn’t shown it would suffer irreparable harm without the $1 million while the case is adjudicated.
Orrick issued concurrent orders Monday denying the administration’s motion to toss the case, along with a similar one brought by San Francisco, also a sanctuary jurisdiction.
“Given the number of open questions concerning the federal government’s positions concerning the provisions of the statutes in question, the relatively minimal injury its delay has caused thus far, and the extraordinary nature of the relief sought, I deny the state’s motion without prejudice,” Orrick wrote.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last July that state and local governments would no longer qualify for the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants unless they give immigration authorities access to local jails, 48 hours’ notice before releasing undocumented immigrants from custody, and personal information about individuals suspected of being in the country illegally. The Department of Justice said the new grant conditions are to ensure that cities and states comply with Section 1373 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The new conditions conflict with California’s sanctuary laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The laws, passed last October, prohibit the sharing of personal information – including a person’s address – and the scheduled release dates of undocumented immigrants held in state and county correctional facilities.
California and San Francisco challenged the administration’s new policy the following month, alleging it violates the Spending Clause because it is unrelated to the purpose of the JAG grant, and the police powers granted to local governments by the Tenth Amendment.
On Monday, Orrick acknowledged the importance of the case to defining “the contours of the state’s broad constitutional police powers under the Tenth Amendment” and the federal government’s powers over immigration. But he emphasized that the injunction question is narrower and that California hadn’t shown irreparable harm.
The state had argued in part that the new policy would cause it “imminent and irreparable harm” absent an injunction by eroding trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, and by impacting law enforcement programs.
“At the moment, the merits of the state’s constitutional claim are uncertain and its injury is the delay of a $1 million grant,” Orrick wrote. “While delay in funding is potentially injurious, the amount is not so great that the state could not cover it while the litigation continues.”
Citing New York v. United States, decided by the Supreme Court in 1992, Orrick also said California’s Spending Clause argument was in question, finding that Section 1373 may be sufficiently related to law-enforcement funding, “depending on the breadth of the federal government’s interpretation of Section 1373.”
California also hadn’t shown it could win its Tenth Amendment argument, Orrick said, pointing out there are a “number of open questions” about the administration’s position on the statute.
The conflict hinges on what the word “regarding” means in Section 1373. To receive JAG funds, recipients must comply with the provision, which bars state and local governments from prohibiting or restricting the exchange of “information regarding the…citizenship or immigration status” of an individual with federal immigration authorities.
California says the information is limited to a person’s immigration status. The administration insists it includes a person’s jail-release date and home address, arguing it is harder to find and deport an undocumented immigrant without them.
In an email, a Department of Justice official said the department “is pleased the court agreed the preliminary injunction should be denied.”
Federal judges in Chicago and Philadelphia have also issued injunctions barring the Justice Department from cutting off grant funds to those sanctuary jurisdictions.
The Chicago ruling resulted in a nationwide injunction. The Philadelphia ruling applied only to Philadelphia’s grant funding.
Department of Justice attorney Chad Readler represents the administration.
California Deputy Attorney General Lee Sherman represents California. He could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.