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Federal judge: DOJ can't withhold grants from sanctuary cities

A federal judge in California has just ruled that the Department of Justice does not have the authority to make or deny criminal justice grants based on a city or county's "sanctuary" status. He issued a nationwide injunction to prevent the DOJ from requiring cities and counties to cooperate with federal immigration priorities in order to receive these grants.

As you know, last year Texas passed a statewide ban on sanctuary jurisdictions. And, as we discussed at the time, a federal judge overturned that ban but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of it. No Texas municipality can declare itself a sanctuary jurisdiction or resist cooperating with ICE or the USCIS. Therefore, the ruling won't have much effect in our state.

In the case before the court, the city of Los Angeles complained that the Justice Department denied it federal criminal justice grants because it refused to allow ICE agents to come into jails and ask the inmates about their immigration status. The criminal justice grants were for community policing programs and had nothing to do with immigration.

Under the administration's new rules, these community policing, or COPS grants are issued based on a point system. The agency considers the city or county's crime rate, fiscal health and other factors and assigns points. Additional points are available for municipalities that grant ICE access to their local jails or detention centers in order "to ask aliens and suspected aliens about their immigration status" and also give ICE at least 48 hours' notice when an immigrant or suspected immigrant is about to be released from custody.

However, the Justice Department would not disclose how the additional points are weighted. Moreover, when the Justice Department denied LA's application for a COPS grant last October, it commented that LA would not have received the grant even if it had qualified for the extra points -- implying that sanctuary jurisdictions are ineffective on crime.

The judge found that the Justice Department cannot require LA to cooperate with federal immigration orders despite the city's having specific law-enforcement reasons for refusing. To do so would violate the state police power recognized in the Constitution.

He also found that the point system harmed Los Angeles because it applied improper immigration considerations to the city's detriment.

"Los Angeles is harmed not only because it cannot qualify for bonus points, but because other jurisdictions can. An injunction that bars defendants from applying the challenged considerations only as to Los Angeles does little to ensure an even playing field," the judge wrote.

This ruling is separate from the dispute between the Justice Department and California over the passage of a state-level sanctuary law.

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