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DOJ takes steps to cut off federal funds for sanctuary cities

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has carried through on his threat to deny federal funding to areas that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement -- at least, to the extent he can. He announced recently that he will deny sanctuary cities some $385 million in grants that are contingent upon cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. To keep the money, the cities would have to agree hold immigrants in jail longer than strictly necessary in order to allow ICE to consider them for deportation.

"This is consistent with long-established cooperative principles among law enforcement agencies," Sessions insisted on Tuesday. As we've discussed before, however, many law enforcement agencies oppose cooperation with ICE because they have observed that such cooperation deters immigrants from reporting crimes or cooperating with police in other ways.

The City of San Francisco and Santa Clara County are currently involved in lawsuits over just how much funding could be denied. In an executive order early in his presidency, Donald Trump said that non-cooperating cities would be denied all federal funding. However, a federal judge ruled that the only funding that could legally be cut off was funding that was specifically contingent upon cooperation with ICE. Sessions later issued a memo acknowledging the deniable funding is limited.

The State of California is itself poised to end ICE holds and other cooperation statewide with the California Values Act.

Sessions apparently plans to make as much federal funding as possible contingent upon what many consider to be onerous, if not dangerous, immigration action by local authorities. He has indicated that an ordinary criminal justice grant, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, could be denied to sanctuary cities.

According to the Courthouse News Service, California stands to lose around $18 million in funding, based on last year's budget. San Francisco received $523,000 in such funding last year; Santa Clara County $14,800.

"Attorney General Sessions is imposing new conditions on certain grant funds, without apparent authorization from Congress and in violation of the Constitution," said San Francisco's city attorney in response. "We are reviewing these new grant documents, but we remain confident that San Francisco's sanctuary city policies comply with federal law and that San Francisco continues to be eligible for grant funding."

Last week, a federal judge refused to dismiss the lawsuits by San Francisco and Santa Clara County. He also denied a Justice Department motion to reconsider the injunction put in place earlier this spring that limited the effect of Trump's executive order to funds with existing conditions passed by Congress.

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