Judge Rules Feds Can’t Block Grant Money to Sanctuary Cities

CHICAGO (CN) – Chicago won a partial victory Friday against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attempt to financially punish sanctuary cities for refusing to enforce federal immigration laws.

In July, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Justice Department would no longer award $385 million in grants to cities and states that refuse to help federal agents detain undocumented immigrants at local jails.

The federal government provides this money through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which aims to reduce gun violence, equip officers with body cameras, improve mental health services, and reduce unnecessary incarceration.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions changed the conditions of this grant in a manner that “would require Chicago (1) to detain its own residents and others at federal immigration officials’ request, in order to give the federal government a 48-hour notice window prior to an arrestee’s release; and (2) to give federal immigration officials unlimited access to local police stations and law enforcement facilities in order to interrogate any suspected noncitizen held there, effectively federalizing all of the city’s detention facilities,” according to a lawsuit filed by Chicago last month.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber agreed with the city that Sessions exceeded his authority by tying these two conditions to the Byrne grant.

The statute creating the Byrne grant does not authorize the Attorney General to place conditions on it, although other grants do allow for such measures, according to the judge’s 41-page ruling.

“It would be quite odd for Congress to give the Attorney General authority to impose conditions on the discretionary grants if it had already provided the Attorney General authority to impose conditions on all grants,” Leinenweber, a President Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote.

However, Leinenweber ruled against Chicago insofar as it objected to being required to certify its compliance with a federal law that prohibits local law enforcement from restricting the sharing of information about the citizenship status of an individual.

“Under current case law, only affirmative demands on states constitute a violation of the Tenth Amendment. Here, we follow binding Supreme Court precedent and the persuasive authority of the Second Circuit, neither of which elevates federalism to the degree urged by the City here. A decision to the contrary would require an expansion of the law that only a higher court could establish,” the opinion states.

The Justice Department announced the new policy just two weeks after U.S. District Judge William Orrick III of the Northern District of California refused to lift an injunction blocking part of President Donald Trump’s executive order authorizing the withholding of federal funds from cities that refuse to help enforce U.S. immigration laws.

Trump signed the executive order within days of taking office, but Orrick ruled in April that “federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves.”

The president has repeatedly admonished Chicago for its high crime rate, and he even threatened to send in the National Guard to tackle the city’s gun violence. However, there is no evidence that sanctuary city policies contribute to the city’s crime rate.

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