Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Trump Can’t Punish Sanctuary Cities Through Defunding, Judge Rules

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked enforcement of part of President Donald Trump's executive order to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities that refuse to help the government detain and deport immigrants.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday blocked enforcement of part of President Donald Trump's executive order to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities that refuse to help the government detain and deport immigrants.

"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," U.S. District Judge William Orrick III wrote in his 49-page ruling.

Within days of Trump issuing his Jan. 25 executive order, San Francisco and neighboring Santa Clara County sued the president, calling the directive to strip federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions an unconstitutional abuse of power that threatens the sovereignty of local governments.

During a hearing on April 14, Justice Department lawyers said the policy only affects a small pot of money received by local jurisdictions, specifically three grants issued by the DOJ and Department of Homeland Security. Those grants are directly tied to a longstanding law requiring that jurisdictions not bar local employees from reporting an individual's immigration status to federal authorities, Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler said.

Rather than empowering the president to strip all federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, Readler cast the directive as an exercise of the president's "bully pulpit," intended to spotlight the need for local jurisdictions to more actively help enforce federal immigration laws.

"It is heartening that the government’s lawyers recognize that the order cannot do more constitutionally than enforce existing law," Orrick wrote in his ruling. "But Section 9(a), by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing."

Section 9(a) of the executive order states that the U.S. attorney general and secretary of the Department of Homeland Security "shall ensure that all jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply" with the law "are not eligible to receive federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement."

San Francisco and Santa Clara County say they depend on billions of dollars of in federal aid to provide essential services, including public health and child protective services, and that the threat to pull funding leaves them in a state of budget uncertainty.

San Francisco enacted its sanctuary city policy in 1989 because it believes the city is safer when "all people, including undocumented immigrants, feel safe reporting crimes," according to its lawsuit.

As a sanctuary city, San Francisco and Santa Clara County do not honor all detainer requests, or requests to hold immigrants being released from local jails so they can be taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Orrick found language in the order directing the attorney general to "take appropriate enforcement action" against jurisdictions with "a statute, policy or practice that prevents or hinders the enforcement of federal law" could apply to cities and counties that refuse to honor detainer requests.

"And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments," Orrick wrote in his ruling. "The president has called it 'a weapon' to use against jurisdictions that disagree with his preferred policies of immigration enforcement, and his press secretary has reiterated that the president intends to ensure that 'counties and other institutions that remain sanctuary cites don’t get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order.'"

Although San Francisco and Santa Clara County were not yet officially designated sanctuary jurisdictions by the feds, Orrick found they had standing to sue because the order violates the separation of powers doctrine, violates their Fifth and 10th Amendment rights and because it causes them budget uncertainty.

"The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the president, so the order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds," Orrick wrote. "Further, the 10th Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that the total financial incentive not be coercive."

Orrick granted the injunction to block enforcement of Section 9(a) of the executive order, the provision that would allow the federal government to withhold funding from sanctuary jurisdictions.

The judge noted the injunction does not affect the federal government's ability to enforce existing conditions for grants that require local jurisdictions not bar employees from reporting an individual's immigration status to federal authorities.

In a statement, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez called the ruling "a win for the neediest people in our nation," who no longer have to fear the president will withhold funding programs for "seniors in need of food, foster youth in need of shelter, and children who need medical care."

Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams called Orrick’s ruling “historic.”

“Today’s decision is a historic affirmation of the U.S. Constitution’s core principles—that the president cannot usurp powers not given to him, and that the federal government cannot use federal defunding to coerce local governments into becoming federal immigration enforcers,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior noted the parts of Orrick's ruling that were in the Trump administration's favor.

"The court upheld the 'government’s ability to use lawful means to enforce existing conditions of federal grants or 8 U.S.C. 1373.' The Department of Justice previously stated to the court, and reiterates now, that it will follow the law with respect to regulation of sanctuary jurisdictions," Prior said in an email.

"Accordingly, the department will continue to enforce existing grant conditions and will continue to enforce 8 U.S.C. 1373. Further, the order does not purport to enjoin the department’s independent legal authority to enforce the requirements of federal law applicable to communities that violate federal immigration law or federal grant conditions," he said.

The San Francisco City Attorney's Office did not immediately return phone calls and emails seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Follow @NicholasIovino
Categories / Government

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.