President Trump in San Diego
Donald Trump speaks at a rally in San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A federal judge in Philadelphia issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday blocking a federal government attempt to withhold law- enforcement money from so-called “sanctuary cities” — a ruling that could impact a lawsuit Los Angeles has filed over the same issue.

The lawsuits stem from the U.S. Justice Department’s newly imposed requirements for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, including a mandate that sanctuary jurisdictions will be ineligible for the funds unless they cooperate with federal attempts to identify and arrest immigrants in the country illegally.

Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities have long attempted to limit their cooperation with immigration agents, arguing that colluding with the federal authorities discourages immigrants living in the country illegally from reporting crimes or cooperating with local law enforcement.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the Philadelphia ruling, but in October said, “We’re fighting the Trump administration’s continuing attempts to violate the law by using federal funds as a `weapon’ to advance the president’s immigration agenda.”

While the Byrne grant is typically a small amount of money — making up roughly $1 million annually out of Los Angeles’ $8 billion-plus budget — it has become a central focus of local jurisdictions’ efforts to oppose the Trump administration’s hard-line stances on illegal immigration.

While not part of the Philadelphia case, Los Angeles also sued over new requirements attached to the Community Oriented Policing Services grant, which awards bonus points to jurisdictions that agree to focus the use of grant funds on illegal immigration and commit to policies at detention facilities to promote the federal government’s immigration policies.

Los Angeles filed its lawsuit in October. The state of California, San Francisco and Chicago have also filed lawsuits over the issue, and a federal judge in September granted Chicago a similar injunction barring the Trump administration from requiring sanctuary cities to cooperate with immigration agents in order to receive public safety grants.

Feuer said in October that he objected to the new guidelines for several legal reasons, arguing in part that the Justice Department does not have the authority to impose rules on the grants because they were created by Congress.

The Los Angeles Police Department since 1979 has had a policy of restricting its enforcement of federal immigration laws, which has put it in conflict with President Donald Trump as he has looked for various ways to get local jurisdictions to be more cooperative on the laws — including withholding federal grants.

“LAPD made the right call decades ago that restricting officers from civil immigration enforcement makes us all safer by encouraging victims and witnesses of crime, irrespective of immigration status, to contact police,” Feuer said in October. “For the Trump administration to tie unrelated, civil immigration enforcement terms to a community-policing grant that protects kids in some of L.A.’s most underserved neighborhoods jeopardizes public safety and is unconstitutional.”

In his ruling in favor of Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson disputed the term “sanctuary city,” calling it a “misnomer.”

“Philadelphia is not a sanctuary for anyone involved in criminal conduct, nor is it a sanctuary as to any law enforcement investigation, prosecution or imprisonment after having been found guilty of a crime. The court does not need a label for Philadelphia’s policies,” Baylson wrote.

Los Angeles has received more than $1 million annually since 1997 from the Byrne grant, according to Feuer’s office.

Los Angeles applied for and received COPS grants in 2012 and 2016, including a $3.125 million award in 2016 that was used to help expand the “Summer Night Lights” and “Fall Friday Nights” gang-reduction programs.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defended the new policies as necessary to help fight illegal immigration.

“So-called `sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said when he announced the guidelines. “These policies also encourage illegal immigration and even human trafficking by perpetuating the lie that in certain cities, illegal aliens can live outside the law.”

–City News Service

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