SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge on Friday permanently barred the Trump administration from withholding policing grants from California, San Francisco and other so-called sanctuary jurisdictions across the nation.
Following similar rulings by judges in Chicago and Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III held the Justice Department can't impose immigration-related conditions on policing grants, and he struck down a longstanding immigration law - Section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code of Laws - as unconstitutional.
Section 1373 requires that local governments not prohibit employees from sharing an individual’s immigration status with federal agents.
"In agreement with every court that has looked at these issues, I find that: the challenged conditions violate the separation of powers; Section 1373 is unconstitutional; the Attorney General exceeds the Spending Power in violation of the United States Constitution by imposing the challenged conditions," Orrick wrote in a 61-page ruling.
Orrick found a nationwide injunction appropriate because the grant conditions affect all jurisdictions, not just California and San Francisco, which filed separate-but-related lawsuits. However, the judge stayed the nationwide scope of the injunction pending appeal.
Orrick also ordered the Justice Department to immediately release $28.3 million in grant funds to the state of California and city of San Francisco, finding the funding delays jeopardize public safety. The city and state use those funds for drug enforcement and at-risk youth programs and other initiatives, as well as to counter violent crime and gang activities.
“Today’s ruling is a victory in our fight to protect the people of California," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "We will continue to stand up to the Trump Administration’s attempts to force our law enforcement into changing its policies and practices in ways that that would make us less safe.”
Orrick found the city and state presented credible evidence to support their position that sanctuary policies, which limit cooperation with immigration authorities, enhance public safety.
"The evident consequence of a widespread fear of deportation within Latino communities is an underreporting of violent crimes such as domestic violence and gang-related violence," Orrick wrote in his ruling, citing various studies that showed a recent decline in crime reporting in Hispanic communities.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera decried the "unconstitutional grant conditions" as a clear example of presidential overreach and more generally as a bad policy for reducing crime.
"The Trump administration attacks immigrants and claims to be fighting crime but then seeks to take away money for police, prosecutors and courts," Herrera said in a statement. "That makes zero sense."
The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Orrick's ruling applies to two grant programs: the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program and the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant. The Justice Department is currently withholding $56.6 million in grants from six states and several cities and counties it deems out of compliance with its requirements.
In July 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the DOJ would only award policing grants to cities and states that let immigration agents access local jails, gave 48-hour notice before releasing undocumented immigrants, and complied with Section 1373.
Orrick found Section 1373 unconstitutional because it makes local and state governments help enforce federal laws, which violates the separation of powers principles enshrined in the Tenth Amendment.
According to Orrick, even if Section 1373 were constitutional, California and San Francisco sanctuary laws would not violate it because they do not forbid employees from sharing someone’s immigration status with immigration agents. Orrick rejected the DOJ's broader interpretation of "immigration status," which included an immigrant's address, jail release date and other information.
A federal judge in Chicago reached the same conclusion in July, finding Section 1373 unconstitutional. Similar to Orrick, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber stayed the nationwide scope of his permanent injunction pending appeal to the Seventh Circuit.
The Justice Department is also appealing U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson's June 2018 ruling, which found Philadelphia's sanctuary laws do not conflict with Section 1373. That appeal is pending in the 10th Circuit.
Also on Friday, the city of Los Angeles filed papers in a separate lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from again enforcing the same challenged conditions for the Byrne JAG grant in fiscal year 2018.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real in Los Angeles ordered the Justice Department to immediately release fiscal year 2017 grant funds to the city of Los Angeles.
In a separate action Thursday, Los Angeles became the first jurisdiction in the country to challenge the DOJ’s immigration-related conditions on juvenile gang prevention grants.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement the city applied for the grants to “support and create a framework and strategic plan to combat local juvenile gang crime and violence” tied specifically to activity by the international MS-13 gang.
Feuer said the restrictions - which include new mandatory certifications and a questionnaire - are “materially identical” to the restrictions placed on the city’s 2017 application for the Byrne grant.
Martin Macias Jr. contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
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