In a second attempt to thwart the Trump Administration's efforts to punish so-called sanctuary jurisdictions and force them to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts, the City of San Francisco and the State of California are filing coordinated lawsuits against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The lawsuits come in response to a new tactic by Sessions' Justice Department to withhold federal law enforcement grants until sanctuary cities and states comply with the president's orders to aid in immigration enforcement a threat that could mean the loss of over $28 million to California law enforcement agencies, and $1.4 million for San Francisco.
SF's lawsuit was filed Friday, and the state's suit is expected to be filed Monday.
As the LA Times reports, State Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the president's actions "bullying" at a news conference, and added, "It’s a low blow to our men and women who wear the badge, for the federal government to threaten their crime-fighting resources in order to force them to do the work of the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement."
SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera was the first in the country to file suit against the Trump Administration back in January following the president's executive order on sanctuary cities. That legal effort, which was joined by the County of Santa Clara, resulted in a federal judge ruling in April that Sessions and the administration could not withhold federal funding that "bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement... merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves." The judge left open the possibility of certain conditions being written into funding related to law enforcement, and that is the tactic being taken now by the administration.
Having declared itself a sanctuary state, California would potentially lose out on $28.3 million in what are called Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, or Byrne JAG funds in the 2017 fiscal year money that is slated for programs designed to reduce recidivism, deter drug use, provide services to at-risk youth, and supervise probationers with substance abuse and/or mental health issues, according to a release from Herrera's office.
"This president is bent on trying to vilify immigrants and punish cities that prioritize real, effective public safety over splitting up hard-working families,” Herrera said. “Trump attacked sanctuary cities in January with his unlawful executive order. We stopped him in court. Then he tried to sneak through a change in the law by burying it deep in his budget. Now he’s trying to have one of his departments rewrite the rules. So we’re back in court once again, with allies by our side, to compel him to follow the law."
Herrera goes further to reiterate arguments and results of studies that show that sanctuary cities are not the havens for crime that the president has tried to portray, but that "The opposite is true. Sanctuary policies improve public safety by ensuring anyone can seek help if they are the victim of a crime. They can call 911 without fear that it will lead to them or someone they know being deported."
Herrera compares these methods by the president to "burning a mountain of coal in the name of environmental protection," and calls them "a backdoor attempt to coerce states and local governments to carry out federal immigration enforcement."
The conditions of receiving the federal grants are two-fold: local law enforcement agencies must a) allow federal immigration agents unlimited access to local detention facilities to interrogate detainees about their immigration status; and b) provide 48 hours notice to immigration agents before releasing someone that the federal government suspects is in the country unlawfully.
As the lawsuit says, these conditions "do not appear in any federal statute, and they do not reflect the will of Congress in appropriating funds."