DOJ: Court Decision Does Not Stop Effort To Cut Funds From Sanctuary Cities

Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcemen

Alex Pfeiffer White House Correspondent
Font Size:

The Department of Justice is not worried about a federal court decision Tuesday that temporarily blocks enforcement of Trump’s executive order that targeted federal funding of “sanctuary cities.”

A spokesman said the DOJ will continue on with its efforts to restrict federal law enforcement grants from jurisdictions that restrict the federal government from accessing information about the immigration status of an individual.

The judge sided with the city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, California, which both were worried about potentially losing billions in federal money. The DOJ lawyers argued that Santa Clara would have lost less than $1 million in funding. However, the judge said that the order was written too broadly.

Judge William Orrick, an Obama-appointee, also pointed to public comments from Trump administration officials which made the order “unclear.” He said that the administration took a “schizophrenic approach.”

Orrick did uphold the government’s ability to enforce conditions of existing grants and 8 U.S.C. 1373, the federal statute which pertains to sanctuary cities. Ian Prior, a Department of Justice spokesman, said in a statement that 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,” Prior added.

The DOJ lawyers said during oral argument that the executive order was “merely an exercise of the president’s ‘bully pulpit’ to highlight a changed approach to immigration enforcement.”

The judge was correct in that the order signed by Trump spoke about all federal funds, not just the law enforcement grants that Attorney General Jeff Sessions said would be targeted. The order said that all jurisdictions “that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.”

This would mean that major cities, counties, and states could potentially lose billions of dollars. The DOJ, however, would only cut off federal law enforcement grants which amount to less than half a billion dollars in total.

Another issue brought up in the case was that the Trump administration has been unclear at times about what is a sanctuary jurisdiction. Judge Orrick wrote that the order “equates jurisdictions that refuse to honor detainer requests with the term ‘sanctuary jurisdictions.'”

“It further directs the Attorney General to bring ‘enforcement action’ against jurisdictions with policies that ‘hinder the enforcement of Federal law,'” Orrick added.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement identified in March 118 jurisdictions that “hinder the enforcement of federal law” by ignoring immigration detainers or through other policies.

However, Attorney General Sessions has made clear in recent remarks that only jurisdictions that don’t comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 will lose grants.

Sessions sent letters Friday to nine jurisdictions that were identified by the Obama administration as possibly breaking this law. They are Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York City, California, and Clark County, Nev., Milwaukee County, Wis., and Cook County, Ill.

“If it turns out sanctuary city is defined as Section 1373 compliance, then….there is no sanctuary city debate,” Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Jorge Elorza said after a meeting with the attorney general Tuesday.