DOJ Admits It Can’t Actually Take Away Federal Grants From Most ‘Sanctuary’ Cities


WASHINGTON ― After months of bluster about taking away federal law enforcement grants from jurisdictions that don’t fully cooperate with deportation efforts, the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged on Monday what legal experts have said for months: In most cases, the department can’t do that.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a memo explaining how the department will carry out President Donald Trump’s executive order meant to crack down on so-called “sanctuary cities,” defining them more narrowly than before.

“Sanctuary city” is a broad term, but is most often applied to jurisdictions that don’t comply with all of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “detainer” requests to hold individuals who would otherwise be released. Yet instead of going after any city or county that doesn’t comply with ICE’s requests, the executive order will target jurisdictions that specifically don’t comply with a law to share information with the federal government for immigration purposes.

It’s an important distinction ― nearly all jurisdictions, even those labeled sanctuary cities, say they do comply with the law to provide information. If that’s the case, Trump’s anti-sanctuary cities order is largely toothless.

For all of the president’s rhetoric, the Trump administration is now admitting it can only take away funding under narrow circumstances, and not just because jurisdictions are declining to do what ICE asks.

The administration has a good reason to do so: A federal judge temporarily blocked Trump’s executive order in April, ruling that it could violate the Constitution if applied broadly, based on its vague wording.

In a memo released on Monday, Sessions wrote that the term “sanctuary jurisdictions” used in the executive order refers only to jurisdictions that “willfully refuse” to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 ― which simply says that jurisdictions “may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”

The law does not require jurisdictions to proactively disclose immigration information or to hold immigrants on ICE’s behalf. 

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