In July, Sessions announced that he would exclude sanctuary cities—a term for local jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement—from the program. “From now on, the Department will only provide Byrne JAG grants to cities and states that comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities,” he said.
His announcement prompted a sharp rebuke from major cities like Chicago, whose police department received roughly $2 million in grants from the program in 2016. Mayor Rahm Emanuel filed a lawsuit against Sessions over his new requirements in August, arguing that the restrictions went beyond what Congress authorized when it created the program.
In his ruling on Friday, Leinenweber largely agreed with the city. He noted that Congress provided no explicit authorization for the attorney general to add the new conditions to the Byrne program.
“By failing to direct the court to any textual authority within the Byrne JAG statue itself, the Attorney General appears to concede the point,” he wrote. The Justice Department did cite a general provision elsewhere in federal law to support Sessions’s move, Leinenweber noted, but this argument “is persuasive only to the extent one scrutinizes the provision without the illumination of the rest of the statue.”
At the same time, the judge rejected Chicago’s argument that Section 1373 is unconstitutional. That provision in federal law forbids state and local jurisdictions from refusing to provide certain kinds of immigration-status information to the federal government. The section’s constitutionality has been disputed: My colleague Garrett Epps noted after Trump issued his original sanctuary-city order in January that the administration’s efforts to defund sanctuary cities could run afoul of two major Supreme Court cases on federalism. Ironically, he noted, those cases are considered significant conservative legal victories.
Leinenweber, however, declined to accept a similar argument from Chicago. “Without a doubt, Section 1373 restricts the ability of localities to prohibit state or local officials from assisting a federal program, but it does not require officials to assist in the enforcement of a federal program,” he noted. While Leinenweber acknowledged Chicago’s challenge had raised a novel constitutional question, he declined to side with the city under existing precedents.
Friday’s injunction is the latest in a string of courtroom defeats for the Trump administration in its efforts to impose a more hardline immigration-enforcement policy upon the federal and state governments. In April, a federal court in California blocked an executive order signed by President Trump in January that threatened to cut off federal funding for sanctuary cities. Judge William Orrick ruled that without express authorization from Congress, those funds “cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration-enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves.” Sessions tried to water down the directive to pass legal muster the following month, but without success: Orrick refused to lift the injunction in July.