- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the federal government can punish sanctuary cities by withholding Justice Department grant money, giving President Trump a major victory in the escalating battle with sanctuary cities.

Judge Reena Raggi, a Bush appointee to the court, said government has a valid interest in getting state and local officials to cooperate with Homeland Security — and, under the law, a tool to do so. She said jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate are flouting federal law.

“There is something disquieting in the idea of states and localities seeking federal funds to enforce their own laws while themselves hampering the enforcement of federal laws, or worse, violating those laws,” she wrote in the opinion for the three-judge panel.

Their ruling, which reversed a district court, stands in contrast to decisions by three other appeals courts. That disagreement could make the sanctuary issue ripe for a Supreme Court challenge.

The ruling clears the way for the government to withhold Byrne Justice Assistance Grant money from some of the plaintiffs — New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, Massachusetts and Virginia — though not all of them.

That’s because some of them are covered under some of those other conflicting appeals court rulings.

The White House claimed victory after the decision.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions deliberately imperil the safety of the American people by releasing criminal aliens onto city streets — instead of handing them over to federal authorities,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

The fight is over what’s known as Section 1373, written by Congress in 1996, which says localities applying for certain pots of money from the Justice Department may not block their employees from sharing information with federal immigration officials “regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

The Trump administration issued guidance saying that to comply with that, localities needed to certify that they were in compliance with the law, that they would honor information requests from Homeland Security, and that they would allow immigration authorities access to their prisons and jails.

Sanctuary states and cities objected, saying the administration cut too many corners in announcing the new policy, and went beyond the terms of the law. They also argued Section 1373 itself was unconstitutional because it violated states’ sovereignty.

Other courts have backed those claims in other cases, and a district court did in this case.

But the 2nd Circuit rejected each of those arguments.

Judge Raggi said it makes sense for the government to condition grant money, which pays to prosecute and incarcerate people, on cooperation with Homeland Security, since some of those people are going to be deportable.

She said but for the state’s incarceration, Homeland Security would be able to carry out its own duty to deport them.

“In such circumstances, coordination between the State and DHS is not only appropriate, but necessary, to allow the federal agency effectively to resume its obligations when the State has achieved its penal ones,” she wrote.

Judge Raggi pointed out that the Trump administration’s stance is not new, and that the Obama administration began to take similar steps to condition grants on cooperation. She was joined in her ruling by Judge Jose A. Cabranes, a Clinton appointee, and Judge Ralph K. Winter, a Reagan appointee.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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