SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge said Wednesday he would allow twin lawsuits brought by the city of San Francisco and the state of California to proceed, seeking to block the Trump administration from withholding $28 million in law-enforcement funds from sanctuary jurisdictions in California.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick III said in a hearing in San Francisco he was “looking forward to sorting out” at a future hearing the conflict between the police powers local governments have under the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment and the federal government’s “undoubted powers with respect to immigration.”
“Don’t you think the clash is going to be between what the federal government actually interpreted Section 1373 to mean, and isn’t that the entire guts of the issues we’re going to have to deal with in this case?” Orrick asked the administration’s attorneys, referring to a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act. “Shouldn’t we be dealing with the merits of the case with a full record?”
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.
The new conditions conflict with California’s and San Francisco’s sanctuary laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Both sets of laws 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.
The plaintiffs challenged the administration’s new policy the following month, alleging it violates the Constitution by placing new conditions on grant funds unrelated to the purpose of the grants, and by invoking spending powers belonging to Congress.
Orrick set up the conflict succinctly on Wednesday: what does the word “regarding” mean in Section 1373? The law states that 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.
The plaintiffs say 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 it.
“If they’ve already been released and were not detained at that time, address is critical to finding them,” U.S. Department of Justice attorney Chad Readler said. “The release date is a critical component of immigration status.”
California Deputy Attorney General Lee Sherman denied that release date and address information is relevant to law enforcement.
“The defendants are trying to impose conditions on people just suspected of criminality,” he said. “Just because someone is released from custody does not make them more unlawfully present in the U.S.”
Orrick said the case would proceed to summary judgment, because the administration’s reading of Section 1373 may violate the Tenth Amendment, which delegates powers to states not delegated to the federal government.
Readler denied a violation, arguing the government hadn’t forced the plaintiffs to accept JAG funds. He added that the Second Circuit has held that Section 1373’s information-sharing requirement does not violate the Tenth Amendment.
Orrick, however, said that depends on how Section 1373 is read.
Wednesday’s hearing came on the heels of an immigration sweep in Northern California in which 150 undocumented immigrants were arrested. Federal officials said they had targeted an additional 864 for arrest, suggesting Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to alert the public over the weekend of the planned operation allowed them to elude capture. Oakland is also a sanctuary jurisdiction.