LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday ruled the Trump administration exceeded its authority when it withheld a 2017 public safety grant from Los Angeles over its refusal to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
In a 5-page ruling, U.S District Judge Manuel Real granted Los Angeles’ motion for preliminary injunction, finding the authority granted to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to shape restrictions for grant recipients is “limited.”
LA receives about $1 million in federal funds each year from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which pays for local prosecutors and anti-gang programs.
But Trump’s Justice Department told LA it needed to comply with federal immigration policies – including allowing immigration agents into correctional facilities to check on the status of inmates and informing the government 48 hours before an immigrant is released from local custody – to receive that funding.
In his ruling, Real said Sessions is only authorized to determine the “form” of the Byrne JAG grant application and require certain record-keeping and assessment protocols.
“The language of the statutes gives no indication that DOJ is authorized to add civil immigration conditions to those just mentioned,” Real wrote, adding Congress did not “‘grant the attorney general the authority to impose conditions that require states or local governments to assist in immigration enforcement, nor to deny funds to states or local governments for the failure to comply with those conditions.’”
Real said the Byrne JAG grant is awarded based on a “statutory formula” and that its own guidelines explain that it won’t be awarded “at the discretion of a state or federal agency.”
In a statement, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer called the ruling a win for public safety and said it “once again confirms that our nation’s system of checks and balances works.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling.
Justice Department attorneys had argued the feds have the authority to impose restrictions under the “Notice and Access Conditions” statute of the grant guidelines.
Real said the statute covers delegation of administration powers of other federal grants, not the Byrne JAG grant, and that Sessions’ attempt to extend his authority “contradicts the explicit grants of authority” laid out in the statute.
“Trying to impose such conditions is a violation of the separation of powers doctrine and ultra vires,” Real wrote.
He said LA faced an “impossible choice: either it must certify compliance with unconstitutional and unlawful directives that impinge on the city’s sovereignty, damage community trust, and harm public safety,” or lose access to grant funding.
Attorneys for Los Angeles argued agreeing to the Justice Department’s conditions would compromise longstanding policy of not involving local police in immigration enforcement practices, which they said leads to a deterioration of trust between police and communities.
Agreeing with that argument, Real cited the Seventh Circuit’s decision City of Chicago v. Sessions, which said some localities “may see such cooperation as impeding the community relationships necessary to identify and solve crimes.”
Real said the public interest is better served when Los Angeles doesn’t have to choose between receiving the Byrne JAG grant and “losing its rapport with the immigrant community.”