Justice Department Cleared to Force Cities to Help ICE for Grant Money

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – Reversing, a divided Ninth Circuit panel ruled Friday the Justice Department acted lawfully when it withheld federal grants from Los Angeles for refusing to comply with the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

The government brought the appeal after U.S. District Judge Manuel Real ruled the federal government could not ask cities to open their jails to immigration officials or demand they provide information on detained immigrants in order to receive community policing grants.

LA – which received about $1 million each year to fund prosecutors and anti-gang programs – argued complying with the Justice Department’s conditions would damage community relationships with law enforcement and jeopardize public safety.

But in a 60-page opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta, a George W. Bush appointee, the Ninth Circuit ruled the Justice Department acted lawfully, not arbitrarily or capriciously, when it imposed the grant restrictions.

“We conclude that DOJ’s policy decision has a ‘rational connection’ to the goal of enhancing public safety and was not counter to the evidence before the agency, and therefore is not arbitrary and capricious,” Ikuta wrote.

Attorneys for LA argued the Justice Department failed to take into account that the city’s sanctuary policies have not led to an increase in crime and that studies showed no clear relationship between community policing and civil immigration enforcement.

But Ikuta said the Justice Department “reasonably determined” the presence of undocumented immigrants is a public safety issue that could be addressed by community policing.

Federal immigration authorities’ failure to deport undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes is a “congressional concern” that has been noted by the U.S Supreme Court, Ikuta wrote.

U.S. Circuit Judge Jay Bybee – also a George W. Bush appointee – joined Ikuta in the opinion.

“Los Angeles may believe that addressing illegal immigration is not the most effective way to improve public safety, but the wisdom of DOJ’s policy is not an element of our arbitrary and capricious review,” Ikuta wrote.

U.S Circuit Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw dissented, saying the grant restrictions are unlawful because the Justice Department “decided to usurp” community policing funds for their own immigration enforcement operations.

“Because the term ‘community-oriented policing’ had in 1994 and has through today a commonly understood meaning that excludes federal immigration enforcement functions, the new federal immigration preferences are, as the district court held, ultra vires as a matter of law,” Wardlaw, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote.

According to Wardlaw, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions exceeded his authority when he announced in July 2017 that applicants would receive points based on cooperation with Trump administration policies on immigration.

“It may be that illegal immigration enforcement is a public safety issue, but, as the city of Los Angeles argues, demanding that local police partner with federal immigration enforcement could well erode the trust and mutual respect on which community policing depend, to the detriment of public safety,” Wardlaw wrote.

Neither the city nor the Justice Department responded to requests for comment by press time.

In 2017, the Justice Department received 1,142 applications for more than $400 million in funding, $3 million of which was requested by Los Angeles to hire 25 officers for the city’s Community Safety Partnership Program.

But LA didn’t select “illegal immigration” as its focus area nor did it submit a cooperation agreement with its application – two scoring factors the Justice Department considered when awarding additional “points” for applicants.

Judge Real died last month at the age of 95 after more than 50 years on the federal bench.

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