U.S. Justice Department ends Trump-era limits on grants to ‘sanctuary cities’

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has repealed a policy put in place during Donald Trump’s presidency that cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

In an internal memo seen by Reuters, acting head of the Office of Justice Programs Maureen Henneberg said that prior grant recipients, including cities, counties and states that were recipients of the department’s popular $250 million annual grant program for local law enforcement, will no longer be required to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a condition of their funding.

She also ordered staff to take down any pending Justice Department grant applications with similar strings attached and start the process over again.

In the memo, Henneberg, who leads the department’s largest grant-making arm, said she had instructed staff to “pull down and revise all solicitations that describe requirements or priority consideration elements or criteria pertaining to immigration.”

“These solicitations will be reposted and grantees will be required to reapply,” she added.

It is one of a series of decisions by Attorney General Merrick Garland, an appointee of President Joe Biden, to break with policies put in place during the Trump administration. In another high-profile move, the Justice Department has stepped up investigations of U.S. police departments that face charges of brutality or discriminatory tactics.

Shortly after being sworn in, Biden overturned a Trump executive order that had allowed the Justice Department to pressure cities that refused to notify federal immigration authorities when people living in the U.S. illegally have been detained for criminal violations, including minor ones.

Garland on April 14 ordered the department to begin to implement the change.

LEGAL BATTLES PAUSED

The policy reversal marks a major victory for states and cities that have been unable to access awards they received through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program, known as “Byrne JAG.”

Named for a New York City police officer killed in the line of duty, the Byrne JAG grant program is the Justice Department’s leading source of reimbursement to state and local law enforcement to pay for a variety of initiatives, from prosecutions and corrections programs, to drug and mental health treatment centers.

In fiscal year 2020, the program doled out more than $253 million in grants.

Trump made cracking down on immigration, legal and illegal, a centerpiece of his administration.

Some cities and states resisted his efforts by adopting “sanctuary” policies, arguing that close cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities can deter immigrants from coming forward to report crimes.

The fight to withhold Byrne JAG grant money prompted numerous lawsuits, as jurisdictions, including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco sued the Justice Department on the grounds that withholding the money was unlawful.

In one of those lawsuits brought by New York state, New York City and six other states, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in February 2020 sided with the Trump administration and ruled it was entitled to withhold millions in grant money.

The plaintiff states appealed to the Supreme Court, but the appeal was later withdrawn after Biden won the 2020 election.

The Justice Department and the plaintiffs jointly asked a federal judge in March to put the matter on hold, while the department finished reviewing the grant conditions at the heart of the case.

The New York Attorney General’s office said that during the last four years, the state hasn’t been able to tap more than $30 million in grant money from the Justice Department as a result of the pending litigation.

The Justice Department’s decision to cease using immigration-related criteria will apply to all of the department’s grants, according to the memo, as well as notices posted by several other Justice Department offices that award grants.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Aurora Ellis and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump administration demands documents from ‘sanctuary cities’

People visit the Liberty State Island as Lower Manhattan is seen at the background in New York, U.S., August 17, 2017.

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday escalated its battle with so-called sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants from deportation, demanding documents on whether local law enforcement agencies are illegally withholding information from U.S. immigration authorities.

The Justice Department said it was seeking records from 23 jurisdictions — including America’s three largest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as three states, California, Illinois and Oregon — and will issue subpoenas if they do not comply fully and promptly.

The administration has accused sanctuary cities of violating a federal law that prohibits local governments from restricting information about the immigration status of people arrested from being shared with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Many of the jurisdictions have said they already are in full compliance with the law. Some sued the administration after the Justice Department threatened to cut off millions of dollars in federal public safety grants. The cities have won in lower courts, but the legal fight is ongoing.

The Republican president’s fight with the Democratic-governed sanctuary cities, an issue that appeals to his hard-line conservative supporters, began just days after he took office last year when he signed an executive order saying he would block certain funding to municipalities that failed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The order has since been partially blocked by a federal court.

“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Democratic mayors fired back, and some including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to skip a previously planned meeting on Wednesday afternoon at the White House with Trump.

“The Trump Justice Department can try to intimidate us with legal threats, but we will never abandon our values as a welcoming city or the rights of Chicago residents,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “The Trump administration’s actions undermine public safety by jeopardizing our philosophy of community policing, as they attempt to drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the police who serve them.”

IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN

The issue is part of Trump’s broader immigration crackdown. As a candidate, he threatened to deport all roughly 11 million of them. As president, he has sought to step up arrests of illegal immigrants, rescinded protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children and issued orders blocking entry of people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Other jurisdictions on the Justice Department’s list include: Denver; San Francisco; the Washington state county that includes Seattle; Louisville, Kentucky; California’s capital Sacramento; New York’s capital Albany, Mississippi’s capital Jackson; West Palm Beach, Florida; the county that includes Albuquerque, New Mexico; and others.

The Justice Department said certain sanctuary cities such as Philadelphia were not on its list due to pending litigation.

On Twitter on Wednesday, De Blasio objected to the Justice Department’s decision to, in his words, “renew their racist assault on our immigrant communities. It doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.”

“The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, adding that mayors cannot “pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

The Justice Department last year threatened to withhold certain public safety grants to sanctuary cities if they failed to adequately share information with ICE, prompting legal battles in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

In the Chicago case, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction barring the Justice Department from withholding this grant money on the grounds that its action was likely unconstitutional. This funding is typically used to help local police improve crime-fighting techniques, buy equipment and assist crime victims.

The Justice Department is appealing that ruling. It said that litigation has stalled the issuance of these grants for fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Makini Brice; Editing by Will Dunham)

Judge refuses to remove block on Trump sanctuary city order

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a "Made in America" event on pharmaceutical glass manufacturing at the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Dan Levine

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Thursday refused to revisit a court order that blocks President Donald Trump’s administration from carrying out a policy designed to threaten the granting of federal funds to so-called sanctuary cities.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in San Francisco ruled that a recent memo from the Justice Department that appeared to narrow the scope of Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities did not remove the need for a court-ordered injunction.

Orrick wrote that the memo is not binding and the attorney general can revoke it at any time.

A Justice Department spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Trump issued the order in January, shortly after he was inaugurated, directing that funding be slashed to all jurisdictions that refuse to comply with a statute that requires local governments to share information with U.S. immigration authorities.

Sanctuary cities generally offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce federal immigration laws. Dozens of local governments and cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have joined the growing “sanctuary” movement.

The Trump administration contends that local authorities endanger public safety when they decline to hand over for deportation illegal immigrants arrested for crimes.

After Trump issued the sanctuary cities executive order, California’s Santa Clara County – which includes the city of San Jose and several smaller Silicon Valley communities – sued, saying it was unconstitutional. San Francisco filed a similar lawsuit.

In a ruling in April, Orrick said Trump’s order targeted broad categories of federal funding for sanctuary governments and that plaintiffs challenging the order were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

The Justice Department asked Orrick to revisit that ruling, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo which said the only funds the government intended to withhold were certain grants tied to law enforcement programs.

Orrick voiced skepticism at a hearing earlier this month.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. judge unlikely to remove block on Trump sanctuary city order

U.S. President Donald Trump salutes on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington, U.S., from the G20 Summit in Hamburg, July 8, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Wednesday said he was “very much inclined” to maintain a court order that blocks President Donald Trump’s administration from carrying out a policy designed to threaten federal funds to so-called sanctuary cities.

At a hearing in San Francisco federal court, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III said a recent memo from the Justice Department that appeared to narrow the scope of Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities did not remove the need for an injunction.

Trump issued the order in January directing that funding be slashed to all jurisdictions that refuse to comply with a statute that requires local governments to share information with immigration authorities.

Sanctuary cities generally offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce of federal immigration laws. Dozens of local governments and cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have joined the growing “sanctuary” movement.

The Trump administration contends that local authorities endanger public safety when they decline to hand over for deportation illegal immigrants arrested for crimes.

The Republican president’s moves to crack down on immigration have galvanized legal advocacy groups, along with Democratic city and state governments, to oppose them in court.

After Trump issued the sanctuary cities executive order earlier this year, Santa Clara County – which includes the city of San Jose and several smaller Silicon Valley communities – sued, saying it was unconstitutional. San Francisco filed a similar lawsuit.

In a ruling in April, Orrick said Trump’s order targeted broad categories of federal funding for sanctuary governments and that plaintiffs challenging the order were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions then issued a memo which formally endorsed a narrower interpretation of Trump’s order, saying that the only funds the government intended to withhold were certain grants tied to law enforcement programs.

In court on Wednesday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett Shumate said the Sessions memo meant less than a million dollars were now at risk for Santa Clara County and San Francisco, so the injunction was no longer needed.

But Orrick said an injunction was still necessary because Trump could always order Sessions to issue new, broader guidance.

“The attorney general still has the ability to change that memo,” Orrick said.

The judge said he would also likely reject a Justice Department request to dismiss other claims by Santa Clara and San Francisco.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

House cracks down on illegal immigrants with bills backed by Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets with immigration crime victims at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Steve Holland and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Bills backed by U.S. President Donald Trump to crack down on illegal immigrants passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, drawing criticism from immigration activists and others who called them a threat to civil liberties.

The House voted 228-195 to pass the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” that would withhold some federal grants to so-called “sanctuary city” jurisdictions that do not comply with certain federal immigration laws.By a vote of 257-167, the chamber also passed “Kate’s law” to increase penalties for illegal immigrants who return to the United States. It is named for Kate Steinle, who was shot dead in San Francisco in 2015. An illegal immigrant who had been deported five times was charged with her murder.

“I applaud the House for passing two crucial measures to save and protect American lives,” Trump said in a statement. “These were bills I campaigned on and that are vital to our public safety and national security.”

Both bills will need approval from the Senate to become law. Trump’s Republicans control both chambers. But Democrats assailed the measures as fear-mongering.

“Although people who illegally re-enter the country do so to reunite with their families, or to flee violence or persecution, this bill considers them all dangerous criminals who deserve lengthy prison sentences,” Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said during debate on “Kate’s Law.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump demanded action against sanctuary cities, which provide some protection for illegal immigrants under laws that limit how much cooperation local police may have with federal immigration authorities.

The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” prohibits sanctuary cities from adopting policies that restrict police officers from asking individuals about their immigration status or the immigration status of others.

Under the laws, illegal immigrants would face mandatory detention for past convictions of an expanded number of offenses, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

On Wednesday, Trump promoted both bills at the White House with speeches by parents of young people slain by people who live in, or immigrated to, the United States illegally.

(Reporting By Steve Holland and Amanda Becker; Editing by Grant McCool, Howard Goller and Diane Craft)

U.S. court hears challenge on Texas law to punish ‘sanctuary cities’

A protester against the Texas state law to punish "sanctuary cities" stands outside the U.S. Federal court in San Antonio, Texas,

By Jon Herskovitz and Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – A small border town and some of the largest cities in Texas will ask a federal judge on Monday to block a new state law to punish “sanctuary cities,” arguing it promotes racial profiling, diverts resources from police and is unconstitutional.

The Republican-backed law in Texas, the U.S. state with the longest border with Mexico, takes effect on Sept. 1. It is the first of its kind since Republican Donald Trump became president in January, promising to crack down on illegal immigration.

Luis Vera, an attorney for the League Of United Latin American Citizens, one of the numerous plaintiffs in the suit, said the bill was signed despite opposition from several police chiefs across Texas and the state’s large Latino population.

“No one in the history of the United States has ever attempted this in any state. That’s why the whole world is watching us right now,” Vera said in an interview.

The law known as Senate Bill 4 calls for jail time for police chiefs and sheriffs who fail to cooperate in U.S. immigration enforcement. The measure also allows police to ask about immigration status during a lawful detention.

Supporters have said immigrants who do not break the law have nothing to fear. Critics contend it allows police to detain people for up to 48 hours for immigration checks, even for minor infractions such as jaywalking.

“It is absurd, it is offensive, when people say sanctuary cities make us safe. They allow hardened criminals to hide in plain sight,” Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told reporters last week.

The hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio will be before Judge Orlando Garcia.

In a separate case this month, Garcia cast doubt on the legality of some Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests at the heart of the law, saying there are times when they can violate the U.S. Constitution.

A detainer is a request by immigration officials for a jurisdiction to continue to hold a person in custody, usually for no more than 48 hours, to check if they can be handed over to ICE for potential deportation.On Friday, The Trump administration filed court papers to support the Texas state law and is seeking to argue in court hearings in favor of the legislation it says will help keep America safe.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Jim Forsyth; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Trump slams federal court ruling on funding for ‘sanctuary cities’

People participate in a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday attacked a federal judge’s ruling that blocked his executive order seeking to withhold funds from “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, vowing to appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco was the latest blow to Trump’s efforts to toughen immigration enforcement. Federal courts have also blocked his two travel bans on citizens of mostly Muslim nations.

“First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!” Trump said in a tweet, referring to the San Francisco-based federal appeals court and its judicial district.

The Trump administration has targeted sanctuary cities, which generally offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants and often do not use municipal funds or resources to advance the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Critics say authorities endanger public safety when they decline to hand over for deportation illegal immigrants arrested for crimes, while supporters argue that enlisting police cooperation to round up immigrants for removal undermines trust in local police, particularly among Latinos.

Dozens of local governments and cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have joined the “sanctuary” movement.

In his ruling, Orrick said Trump’s Jan. 25 order targeted broad categories of federal funding for the sanctuary cities and that plaintiffs challenging it were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

An appeal is likely to be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before it goes to the Supreme Court. Republicans view the appeals court as biased toward liberals, and Trump was quick to attack its reputation in his tweets.

It “has a terrible record of being overturned (close to 80%). They used to call this “judge shopping!” Messy system,” he wrote.

The appeals court raised Trump’s ire earlier this year when it upheld a Seattle judge’s decision to block the Republican president’s first travel ban on citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations.

In May, the court will hear an appeal of a Hawaii judge’s order blocking Trump’s revised travel ban, which placed restrictions on citizens from six mostly Muslim countries. A Maryland judge also blocked portions of the second ban.

Trump has issued sweeping condemnations of courts and judges when they have ruled against him or his administration.

In February, he called the federal judge in Seattle who ruled against his first travel ban a “so-called judge.” During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump accused an Indiana-born judge overseeing lawsuits against the defunct Trump University of bias based on his Mexican ancestry.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Paul Simao)

Seattle sues Trump administration over threat to ‘sanctuary’ cities

FILE PHOTO: The skyline of Seattle, Washington, U.S. is seen in a picture taken March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Redmond/File Photo

By Tom James

SEATTLE (Reuters) – The city of Seattle sued U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday over its executive order seeking to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities,” arguing it amounted to unconstitutional federal coercion.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told reporters the Constitution forbade the federal government from pressuring cities, “yet that is exactly what the president’s order does. Once again, this new administration has decided to bully.”

“Things like grants helping us with child sex trafficking are not connected to immigration,” Murray said, adding: “It is time for cities to stand up and ask the courts to put an end to the anxiety in our cities and the chaos in our system.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened on Monday to strip Justice Department grants from cities and other local governments that choose to shield illegal immigrants from deportation efforts.

Trump, who made tougher immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his campaign, directed the government in his Jan. 25 executive order to cut off funding to sanctuary jurisdictions. That order has yet to be put into effect, but Sessions’ announcement seemed to be the first step in doing so.

Trump administration officials say the immigration crackdown is focused on illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

Responding to the Seattle lawsuit, a U.S. Justice Department representative said in a statement: “Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offenses makes our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.”

Seattle’s action was the latest legal salvo over the Trump immigration order from local governments across the country, including the city of San Francisco and California’s Santa Clara County.

Police agencies in dozens of “sanctuary” cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, have barred their officers from routinely checking on immigration status when making arrests or traffic stops. They have also refused to detain people longer than otherwise warranted at the request of federal agents seeking to deport them.

Supporters of the policy argue that enlisting police cooperation in rounding up immigrants for removal undermines communities’ trust in local police, particularly among Latinos.

Murray said the goal of Seattle’s lawsuit was to have the courts declare that federal authorities “cannot force our local police officials to be involved in federal immigration activities.”

(Editing by Patrick Enright and Peter Cooney)