A federal judge has blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to use Justice Department public-safety grant programs to discourage so-called sanctuary city policies aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants.
Acting on a lawsuit brought by the City of Chicago, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber issued a nationwide preliminary injunction Friday prohibiting the Justice Department from adding new grant conditions requiring cities to allow immigration agents access to local jails and insisting that local authorities give advance notice when suspected illegal immigrants are about to be released from custody.
“Congress may well have Spending Clause power to impose the conditions or delegate to the Executive Branch the power to impose them, including the notice and access condition, but it must exert that power through statute,” wrote Leinenweber, a Reagan appointee. “The Executive Branch cannot impose the conditions without Congressional authority, and that authority has not been conferred” by the statutory provision Justice Department lawyers cited, the judge said.
In a 41-page opinion, Leinenweber found that those new conditions “violate the separation of powers doctrine” delegating lawmaking authority to Congress. He said he was applying his order nationally because there was “no reason to think that the legal issues present in this case are restricted to Chicago or that the statutory authority given to the Attorney General would differ in another jurisdiction.”
The judge declined to block another new grant condition that specifically required grant recipients to confirm that they’re complying with an existing federal law that bars localities from implementing policies prohibiting or restricting local officials from communicating with immigration officials.
Justice Department spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions had slammed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel soon after the city filed suit last month.
“No amount of federal taxpayer dollars will help a city that refuses to help its own residents,” Sessions said. “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.”
Emanuel scheduled a press conference Friday afternoon to react to the ruling.
The Trump administration is facing similar lawsuits from the cities of Philadelphia and San Francisco, as well as the State of California. No substantive rulings have been issued in those cases. The City of Los Angeles also attempted to join one of the cases, but was rebuffed by a judge.
Cities with the sanctuary policies contend that they help build trust between law enforcement and communities with significant numbers of undocumented immigrants, but Sessions insists that the practice leaves local residents at risk of being victimized by illegal immigrants who are released onto the streets when they should be detained and deported.