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Judge Blocks Trump on Threat to Punish Sanctuary Cities

Janan Hanna

and Kartikay Mehrotra

The Trump administration lost another round in its effort to punish cities that don’t cooperate with its crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

A Chicago federal judge ruled Friday the U.S. Justice Department can’t withhold millions of dollars in grants supporting public safety from cities that refuse to share with federal officials the immigration status of suspects in custody.

The limited restrictions on funding challenged by Chicago were imposed by the Justice Department after the Trump administration was blocked by a San Francisco judge in April from making much broader cuts in jurisdictions that don’t assist its efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.

“The court finds that the city has established that it would suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction is not entered,” U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said in his ruling. The injunction is “nationwide in scope,” Leinenweber said, “there being no reason to think that the legal issues present in this case are restricted to Chicago.”

The Justice Department continues to assert that sanctuary policies risk the safety of residents in those communities, according to a statement issued in response to the ruling. The Trump Administration didn’t disclose any plans to appeal the Chicago ruling.

“The Department of Justice will continue to fully enforce existing law and to defend lawful and reasonable grant conditions that seek to protect communities and law enforcement,” according to the statement from Devin O’Malley, a spokesman.

Why ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Are a Target for Trump: QuickTake Q&A

Forcing reluctant cities to help round up undocumented immigrants was a key component of the president’s campaign vow to rid the U.S. of “bad hombres” entering from Mexico. The ruling further frustrates an administration mired in litigation over immigration policy since Trump took office in January.

Still unresolved are legal fights over the president’s travel ban targeting travelers from six mostly Muslim countries and a budget showdown in Congress over funding for his promised border wall with Mexico that risks a government shutdown.

The rules at issue would have required police to provide the Department of Homeland Security with unlimited access to police stations to interrogate civilians who are arrested, and give at least 48-hour notice before the release of someone suspected of immigration violations.

Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, stood to lose its Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant — which last year was $2.3 million — for failing to comply with the Justice Department’s conditions. Total funding for such grants this year was $383.5 million, according to the Justice Department.

San Francisco, Los Angeles and the state of California also sued the federal government over the threat of losing Byrne grants.

Chicago argued in court that the federal regulation ran afoul of the Constitution’s separation of powers principles and also violates a criminal suspect’s Fourth Amendment right not to be held in custody without being charged.

Grant Conditions

Like other sanctuary cities, Chicago has a longstanding policy of not sharing information with federal immigration authorities unless a suspect is charged or convicted of a serious crime. The policy “promotes cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities,” Chicago said in its complaint.

The Justice Department argued that it has discretion to attach conditions to the Byrne grants and that Chicago was effectively demanding that the U.S. give it control over the program.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called Chicago’s Aug. 7 lawsuit “astounding,” saying the city has gone through an unprecedented violent crime surge, “with the number of murders in 2016 surpassing both New York and Los Angeles combined.”

“To a degree perhaps unsurpassed by any other jurisdiction, the political leadership of Chicago has chosen deliberately and intentionally to adopt a policy that obstructs this country’s lawful immigration system,” Sessions said in a statement after the complaint was filed.

The case is Chicago v. Sessions, 17-cv-05720, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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