A federal judge has issued a ruling that blocks the Justice Department from requiring cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in order to be considered eligible for federal law enforcement grants.
The ruling blocks nationwide enforcement of two of the three new conditions the Justice Department sought to impose on jurisdictions seeking funds through the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, which doles out nearly $400 million to state and local agencies each year.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new stipulations in July as a means to ensure that local jurisdictions were cooperating with federal immigration agents and not working to shield illegal immigrants from deportation.
But Chicago officials sued, arguing that the requirements were forcing the city to choose between losing a significant funding source or implementing policies that would damage authorities’ relationships with immigrant communities. They argued that the attorney general had no authority to add the new eligibility conditions to the grant.
U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber ruled Friday that Mr. Sessions exceeded his authority by adding conditions to the Byrne grants that require cities to let federal agents into their prisons and jails, and to give immigration agents at least 48 hours notice before releasing illegal immigrants.
A Justice Department spokesman responded to the ruling by saying officials would continue to enforce existing law and “to defend lawful and reasonable grant conditions.”
“By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with ‘so-called’ sanctuary policies make their communities less safe and undermine the rule of law,” said spokesman Devin O’Malley.
Judge Leinenweber issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the Justice Department from enforcing the two requirements while the case is heard. He wrote that Chicago showed a likelihood of success in its arguments and that he believed the city would face irreparable harm if it was forced to comply with the grant conditions.
“The harm to the city’s relationship with the immigrant community if it should accede to the conditions is irreparable,” Judge Leinenweber wrote. “Once such trust is lost, it cannot be repaired through an award of money damages.”
In his 41-page ruling, the judge noted that Congress can impose such grant conditions or delegate that power to the executive branch but that in the case of this grant, Congress has not conferred that authority.
Justice Department has not yet awarded this year’s Byrne grants.
The ruling wasn’t an entire loss for the Justice Department. The judge ruled that the attorney general does have the authority to impose a third grant condition, which prohibits state and local governments from restricting communications with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status” of individuals.
Judge Leinenweber wrote the argument “boils down to whether state and local governments can restrict their officials from voluntarily cooperating with a federal scheme.” He said that the city failed to show a likelihood of success in that argument.
“The most natural reading of the statute authorizes the Attorney General to require a certification of compliance with all other applicable federal laws, which by the plainest definition includes Section 1373,” he wrote.