The Department of Justice on Wednesday announced it has sent letters to 29 jurisdictions warning that they are in danger of losing federal grant money if they cannot certify compliance with a key federal immigration statute.
The jurisdictions have until Dec. 8 to provide further information to the DOJ that local policies and laws do not contravene 8 USC 1373, a section of the immigration code that bars local officials from limiting communication with federal authorities about a person’s immigration status.
“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents.”
Under DOJ policy outlined by Sessions earlier this year, a sanctuary jurisdiction is any state or local government that has “laws, policies, or practices” that violate section 1373. Sessions had previously notified five major jurisdictions — New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Chicago and surrounding Cook County — that their policies on immigration enforcement met that definition.
Wednesday’s review expands the list to include a broad array of local jurisdictions, from rural California counties to small New England cities to three entire states — Illinois, Oregon and Vermont. The letters go farther than previous warnings, requiring the jurisdictions in question to certify their compliance with section 1373 if they are awarded a Byrne Justice Assistance Grant this year.
“In addition to raising concerns about these jurisdictions’ Section 1373 compliance during FY2016, the Justice Department asked jurisdictions to determine that they will comply with Section 1373 should they receive an FY2017 Byrne JAG award,” DOJ said in a news release Wednesday.
President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to punish sanctuary cities since January, when the administration issued an executive order to pull federal funding from any jurisdiction that limited cooperation with immigration authorities. That order was blocked by a nationwide judicial injunction in April.
Sessions subsequently issued a memo that limited the categories of federal funding that would be in jeopardy to DOJ or Department of Homeland Security grants. He also revised the eligibility guidelines for Byrne grants, requiring applicants to honor federal immigration detention requests, give immigration agents unfettered access to local jails, and comply with section 1373.
A federal judge blocked the first two rules in September in response to a lawsuit from the city of Chicago, that argued the guidelines would “federalize” local law enforcement and force police to violate the constitutional rights of alien jail inmates. The judge allowed to section 1373 requirement to stand.
Hours before Sessions announced the latest round of letters, a federal judge ruled in favor of Philadelphia in a similar lawsuit over the grant eligibility guidelines. U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson found that Philadelphia, which had sued the DOJ in August, was not a sanctuary city and could not be stripped of a $1.5 million grant for the police department and district attorney’s office.
“Philadelphia is not a ‘sanctuary city’ — if that term means that there are any policies that would prevent or inhibit the investigation, arrest, prosecution and sentencing of aliens,” Baylson wrote in a preliminary injunction. “There are none.”
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