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Judge: Sessions Can’t Tie Grant Money to Immigration

A federal judge in California ruled Wednesday that the Justice Department cannot withhold grant funding from cities and counties that do not comply with its immigration policies, and imposed a nationwide injunction on the feds’ actions.

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge in California ruled Wednesday that the Justice Department cannot withhold grant funding from cities and counties that do not comply with its immigration policies, and imposed a nationwide injunction on the feds’ actions.

Los Angeles officials called the injunction a “complete victory” and a “dagger” in the Trump administration’s tactics to use federal funding as a weapon against cities that do not comply with its immigration policies.

The city says it was denied federal funding for community policing programs because it refuses to let ICE agents into jails to ask detainees about their immigration status. It sued the Justice Department this past September seeking an injunction.

In its complaint, Los Angeles said the Justice Department withheld two grants and called the conditions unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real ruled the federal government's conditions violate the General Welfare Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the state's rule-making procedures.

Real also granted the nationwide injunction, which blocks the federal government from putting conditions on Justice Department grants and other funds.

Cities and counties use the funds to hire additional police officers throughout the year. The approval process for the community-oriented policing, or COPS, grant is based on a scoring system which ranks crime, fiscal health and other factors. Additional points can be awarded but their weight isn’t disclosed by the Justice Department.

In September 2017, cities and counties got word they would receive additional points in the scoring process if they cooperated with the federal government by giving federal agents access to detention centers “to ask aliens and suspected aliens about their immigration status” and “at least 48 hours’ notice of their expected release from custody,” according to LA’s lawsuit.

This past October, the Justice Department rejected LA’s application and said the city wouldn’t have gotten the grant even if it had qualified for the bonus points. That last point alone was enough for Real to find for the city.

“Los Angeles is harmed not only because it cannot qualify for bonus points, but because other jurisdictions can. An injunction that bars defendants from applying the dhallenged considerations only as to Los Angeles does little to ensure an even playing field,” he wrote in the 13-page order granting partial summary judgment to the city.

“These conditions infringe upon the state police power.”

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer called Real’s order a complete victory for the city and other jurisdictions who do not comply with the federal government’s immigration policies.

“This is yet another dagger in the heart of the administration’s efforts to use federal funds as a weapon to make local jurisdictions complicit in its civil immigration enforcement policies,” said Feuer, adding those policies strike fear into immigration communities who become reluctant to trust local law enforcement.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called withholding federal dollars based on immigration policies “plain wrong.”

“We were confident, and the courts vindicated what we knew: The Constitution is on the side of the American people and that policing is best informed by those who do it every single day,” said Garcetti.

Los Angeles officials said Real’s order is a different fight than the state’s “sanctuary” laws and the lawsuit filed against California by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said the implication that cities and counties that do not comply with federal immigration policies are ineffective on crime is wrong.

“They claim we’re ineffective on crime and that is just absolute BS,” said Beck. “I travel the whole country with major city police chiefs. When a city has a problem, who do they look to for mentoring and leadership and for the techniques and practices that make a big city safe? LA.”

Real’s order was filed on the same day California Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to send 400 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, but not without saying the stat does not follow the Trump administration’s policies.

The Los Angeles-based law firm Covington and Burling provided pro bono work in the city's lawsuit.

Categories / Courts, Government, National, Regional

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