Federal judge: Funding can’t be withheld from sanctuary areas

A federal judge in Los Angeles recently ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice will not be allowed to withhold grant funding from cities, counties and states that refuse to comply with federal immigration priorities. He issued a nationwide injunction striking down the effort.

Los Angeles is considered a “sanctuary city” because it won’t allow ICE agents into its jails in order to ask criminal detainees about their immigration status. Cities and counties around the country have declined to assist the federal government with certain immigration activities, and the administration has sought to compel them by having their compliance affect criminal justice grants.

Last September, cities and counties seeking criminal justice grants from the Justice Department were notified that they would receive extra points toward approval if they cooperated with federal immigration priorities. This was to include giving ICE access to jails so they could ask inmates about their immigration status, and also providing ICE with 48 hours’ notice when a possible immigrant was to be released from custody.

In October, according to the Courthouse News Service, Los Angeles’s application was rejected. The Justice Department said it would not have received the grant even if it had qualified for the extra points.

The federal judge ruled that placing immigration enforcement conditions on the grants is unconstitutional because it infringes on the state police power. Moreover, he ruled that the extra points in the grantmaking process keep the playing field for grants from being level.

“Los Angeles is harmed not only because it cannot qualify for bonus points, but because other jurisdictions can,” he wrote.

The Justice Department has not yet announced whether it will appeal the ruling, but an appeal seems likely.