Justice Department Seeks to Hold Back Grants to Sanctuary Cities

3 minute read

The Department of Justice will no longer give grants to sanctuary cities, as part of an ongoing Trump Administration crackdown on uncooperative local governments.

Speaking at the White House press briefing Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the agency would not give grants to cities and counties that don’t turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities and would seek to “claw back” any past grants.

“We intend to use all the lawful authority we have to make sure our state and local officials who are so important to law enforcement are in sync with the federal government,” he said.

Sessions specifically referred to ensuring jurisdictions’ compliance with 8 U.S. code 1373, which prohibits local and state governments from restricting the federal governments’ actions on immigration, as a condition for grant eligibility.

There is a question about whether the federal government could withhold a wide array of federal funds from cities over their sanctuary status and still survive a legal challenge. Federalism experts say that case law has built up doctrines that help states maintain their resistance. One is the anti-commandeering principle, which suggests that the federal government cannot force state officials to enforce federal law. Other case law suggests that whatever funds the government is cutting need to be in some way related to the policy issue at stake — so the federal government would be on shaky ground withholding transportation funds in an attempt to force states to comply on an education issue, for example.

In late January, the city of San Francisco sued the Trump Administration over an executive order seeking to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, which amounts to about $1.2 million in that jurisdiction. City Attorney Dennis Herrera cited precedents that suggest the federal government “can’t put a financial gun” to the head of local and state governments in order to force them “to act as its agents.” Officials in sanctuary cities often argue that if undocumented immigrants fear to interact with local officials, they will not report violent crimes, seek medical care or otherwise engage with government systems.

Saying that sanctuary cities “frustrate” immigration laws and are harming their citizens, Sessions cited several crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, including the 2015 shooting of Kate Steinle in San Francisco.

“Countless loved ones would be alive today and countless loved ones would not grieving today if policies of sanctuary cities were ended,” said Sessions.

With reporting by Katy Steinmetz / San Francisco

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