Trump Administration Sued for Reviving Sanctuary State Grant Cuts

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a man during an operation in Escondido, California, on July 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Despite prior legal setbacks, the Justice Department is again trying to cut $328 million in grants from California for passing laws that make it harder for federal agents to find and deport undocumented immigrants, the state claimed in a lawsuit filed Monday.

Beyond imposing the same grant conditions previously deemed unconditional by three federal judges, the Trump administration has added new requirements tied to California laws that limit private employers’ cooperation with federal immigration agents.

“These conditions are part of defendants’ escalating effort to unilaterally and fundamentally remake formula grant structures created by Congress into discretionary funding streams to be exploited for the administration’s immigration enforcement priorities,” California claims in its 72-page complaint.

In October 2018, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III permanently blocked the Trump administration from denying California grant money based on “Sanctuary State” laws that limit cooperation with immigration authorities. Orrick found the executive branch overstepped its authority by imposing funding conditions not authorized by Congress. His decision followed similar rulings by federal judges in Chicago and Philadelphia.

This year, the Justice Department imposed new restrictions on eight grant programs aimed at assisting victims of crime and domestic violence, funding substance abuse treatment, reducing recidivism, educating at-risk youth, preventing juvenile delinquency, reducing DNA testing backlogs and combating rape in prison.

Under the new requirements, states must ensure that, for any position at least partially funded by the grants, employment eligibility can be verified in accordance with federal law.

California believes the Trump administration is planning to deny it $327.7 million in grants based on an “erroneous interpretation” of Title 8 of the U.S. Code of Laws, Section 1324a, which forbids employers from knowingly continuing to employ an alien unauthorized to work in the United States.

California passed a suite of “Sanctuary State” laws in 2017, including one that prohibits employers from re-verifying a worker’s employment eligibility beyond what is required by federal law. 

The state believes its law complies with the federal statute and says it passed the law to protect legal employees from discrimination, retaliation and harassment by employers who subject workers to more scrutiny than what is required by federal law.

“The administration’s expanded focus on workplace immigration raids has precipitated fear among immigrants,” the complaint states. “California’s statutory protections provide some modest measure of security to authorized immigrant workers by restricting employers from engaging in unjustified reverification that goes beyond the requirements of federal law.”

Adopting the Trump administration’s allegedly flawed interpretation of Section 1324a would force California to abandon its workplace protections for legal employees, the state argues in its complaint.

Adhering to the new grant requirements would also force the state to “oversee hundreds of public and non-profit entities’ compliance with a federal immigration law regarding employment verification,” according to the lawsuit. 

The state seeks a permanent injunction barring the Justice Department from imposing the new grant requirements.

The state is represented by Deputy Attorney General Lee Sherman.

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.

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