Political News

California, San Francisco join legal fight over sanctuary cities

Posted August 14

The city of San Francisco and the state of California are suing the Trump administration over its continued pressure on sanctuary cities, adding to a growing number of court challenges to President Donald Trump's immigration agenda.

The city filed its lawsuit over the weekend challenging conditions the Department of Justice recently put on key law enforcement grants to pressure sanctuary cities, and California announced it would be filing its own suit on Monday.

San Francisco's lawsuit alleges that the recent additional requirements on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants are unconstitutional.

In the filing, San Francisco calls the added conditions, which require cities to comply in certain ways with federal immigration enforcement, "simply the latest attempt by the Trump administration to coerce state and local jurisdictions into carrying out the federal government's immigration enforcement priorities."

Separately, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Monday that California would be the first state to challenge the grant conditions.

"This action jeopardizes critical crime-fighting resources and threatens the safety of California residents," Becerra said. "More than $28 million in federal funds that California uses for programs supporting law enforcement, recidivism prevention, crime victims and witnesses, and at-risk youth are at issue."

Chicago has also sued over the additional grant requirements.

A Department of Justice spokesman called the actions of Californian officials "unfortunate" in a statement Monday.

"Several California cities, including San Francisco, have already experienced the devastating effects that sanctuary policies have on their citizens," spokesman Devin O'Malley said, referring to some high-profile murders that have been allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants. "Given the multiple high-profile incidents that have occurred in California in recent years, it is especially disappointing that state leaders would take steps to limit cooperation between local jurisdictions and immigration authorities that are trying to keep Californians safe."

The lawsuits stem from a move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July to place greater conditions on the grants, known as JAGs. Sessions announced cities will be required to certify that they'll cooperate with federal immigration enforcement more extensively than in the past, including by letting federal authorities access detainees in jails to inquire about immigration status and giving the federal government 48 hours' notice before any inmate they're interested in is released.

Those two conditions expanded the requirements on the grants, which go to state and local jurisdictions for a range of crime-fighting programs and issues like drugs, gangs and domestic violence, beyond compliance with a law mandating communication of immigration status to the federal government.

That condition was put in place by the Obama administration last year, and virtually every city says it is in compliance with that law.

The additional requests -- access to jails and 48 hours' notice -- are not required by any current law. But the Trump administration has made sanctuary cities a central focus of its immigration agenda, using pitched rhetoric to condemn sanctuary cities as not actually caring about violent crime.

The term sanctuary city loosely refers to jurisdictions that in some way do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Localities have a variety of justifications for doing so, from protecting undocumented immigrants to preserving law enforcement's ability to gain the trust and cooperation of communities. Some jurisdictions have also been barred by the courts from complying with certain federal requests.

San Francisco has already won one court challenge over the Trump administration's sanctuary city policies.

This spring, a federal judge in the Northern District of California prohibited the administration from carrying out a threat to strip federal funding in general from sanctuary cities, aside from previously existing conditions on the JAGs.

The DOJ conditions that San Francisco is now suing over were announced as added requirements to that grant after the court upheld its ruling against the broader threat.

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