On Friday, United States District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber blocked the U.S. Department of Justice from refusing to provide federal grant money to localities that had enacted “sanctuary city” laws protecting immigrants from deportation, creating a setback for the Trump Administration.
The City of Chicago, which filed the suit in the Northern District of Illinois, argued that the Justice Department had no legal authority to tie federal grant money to sanctuary city provisions. Judge Leinenweber agreed, ruling that Congress had not given the White House the power to impose such conditions. He ruled that the “Executive Branch cannot impose the conditions without Congressional authority, and that authority has not been conferred,” adding that the “conditions therefore exceed statutory authority, and, consequently, the efforts to impose them violate the separation of powers doctrine.”
Sanctuary city laws require that local police and other government officials refrain from asking a person about immigration status unless it is directly relevant to a particular investigation. These laws are typically applicable to minor interactions with the police, such as routine traffic stops, or when an undocumented immigrant is reporting a crime or being interviewed as a witness. Some sanctuary city laws also prevent local police from engaging in agreements with the federal government to be deputized as federal immigration enforcers – so called “287(g) agreements.” For further discussion on sanctuary laws, please refer to our previous blog post here.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated the win, tweeting that it “is not just a victory for Chicago. This is a win for cities across the US that supported our lawsuit vs Trump DOJ defending our values.” The court’s ruling was important for Chicago, which stood to lose a $2.3 million federal grant – a grant they will now likely keep. It was also important across the country, as Judge Leinenweber imposed a nationwide ban on tying these types of grant restrictions to sanctuary city laws.
The Justice Department is currently weighing whether to appeal the ruling. It did, however, issue a statement defending its position, saying that “[b]y protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with ‘so-called’ sanctuary policies make their communities less safe and undermine the rule of law,” and emphasizing that the department “will continue to fully enforce existing law and to defend lawful and reasonable grant conditions that seek to protect communities and law enforcement.”