Justice Department Sued to Release Records on Grant-Cutting Related to Sanctuary Cities and States

Cities and states do not work for the Justice Department and are not obligated to support them directly on enforcement of federal immigration laws, and many don’t. The Justice Department has attacked them back by taking away certain federal funds only from those sanctuary locations. On February 7, the state of California hit the Justice Department with a lawsuit demanding records of their

The lawsuit traces to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request the state had filed on September 8. In it, the state demanded all records related to what had been described as new requirements to apply for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. That program has a budgeted total of $385 million in federal funds earmarked for criminal justice support in state, local and tribal jurisdictions across the United States.

Those new requirements were telegraphed in advance by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In July he announced the Justice Department would no longer be awarding criminal justice grants to jurisdictions which keep immigration agents away from local jails, or do not proactively notify the feds with 48-hour notices before undocumented immigrants are released from jail. The Justice Department said that cities, counties, and states all would be required to certify compliance with a federal law that bans state and local laws from sharing immigration status of individuals with federal authorities.

The lawsuit explained the state’s position in the complaint, saying that, “The State is concerned with [the Office of Justice Program]’s lack of transparency in explaining the need for these conditions, how these conditions relate to the purpose that Congress intended when creating the [Justice Assistance Grant] program, and OJP’s purported authority for imposing these conditions”. It further pointed out that not only did the Justice Department not turn over the records requested in its September 8 FOIA filing, it extended its response timeframe under “unusual circumstances”.

The complaint went on to say, “The State is concerned that OJP did not consider the harm that compliance with these conditions may cause to some state and local jurisdictions that have determined such policies would undermine trust and cooperation between law enforcement and their residents, and therefore, public safety in their jurisdictions.”

The lawsuit follows closely on a threat made by the Justice Department last month, against 23 cities, counties and states identified as sanctuary locations. If those areas fail to turn over documents proving they are cooperating with immigration authorities, they may be subpoenaed by the federal government.

All this is happening despite the U.S. Justice Department already having come out the loser in an important suit regarding the very requirements California is suing to have revealed. In September 2017, a Chicago federal judge blocked two of the Justice Department’s alleged new conditions.

That case was filed by the City of Chicago, and claimed the new rules for applying for funds under the Justice Assistance Grant “would require Chicago (1) to detain its own residents and others at federal immigration officials’ request, in order to give the federal government a 48-hour notice window prior to an arrestee’s release; and (2) to give federal immigration officials unlimited access to local police stations and law enforcement facilities in order to interrogate any suspected noncitizen held there, effectively federalizing all of the city’s detention facilities”. 

In the decision recorded by U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber in that case, he said that the statute which created the Byrne grant does not allow the Attorney General to place conditions on giving the grant.

Since that time, California passed and its governor, Jerry Brown, signed, a set of bills allowing California to function as a “Sanctuary State”. It place safe zone protection around schools, courts and hospitals, and limited state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. This is in line with policies San Francisco has had in place for almost 29 years.

Besides the obvious issue of separation of state powers from those held by the federal authorities, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and now a number of important legal precedents, there is also a considerable amount of money at stake for the state of California here.  $31 million of the grant money in question is supposed to be going to the State of California, according to the law. San Francisco is supposed to get $1.4 million.


As of this writing, the U.S. Justice Department has not responded to the February 7 suit.