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Sanctuary cities, California sue over Trump grant-defunding order

The fight over whether local officials can refuse to enforce federal immigration law is heating up. At least seven cities and counties plus the State of California have filed suit against the Trump administration, citing constitutional concerns over his anti-sanctuary order.

As we've discussed on this blog before, the Trump administration recently moved to strip certain federal criminal justice grants from sanctuary jurisdictions. In response, some jurisdictions have begun aligning their policies with what the administration wants. Others, such as San Francisco, Santa Clara County and Seattle, have filed suit. The two lawsuits from California have prompted a temporary injunction against the removal of any funds.

Other jurisdictions have been threatened despite the fact that it's not clear they are sanctuary jurisdictions. For example, Baltimore and Las Vegas are in the midst of trying to convince the Trump administration that they qualify for the grants. Stockton and San Bernardino were proactively told they would not qualify for grants from the Department of Justice's Pubic Safety Partnership unless they give ICE access to jails and hold inmates who are wanted on immigration violations for longer than necessary, just so that ICE can pick them up.

The federal grants that can be stripped are apparently limited to those already contingent upon cooperation with immigration authorities. That includes the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, however, which last year awarded around $264 million to some 1,000 law enforcement entities last year.

Nationwide, there are around 200 sanctuary jurisdictions, according to the Associated Press. The movement goes back decades, and there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes a sanctuary, however. Some discourage local officers from inquiring into people's immigration status. Others specifically prohibit the very type of cooperation the DOJ insists is required.

Perhaps what municipalities need most, according to a spokesperson for the National League of Cities, is clarity. "When you're planning budgets or there's an expectation for grants and applications, it becomes very difficult to properly judge what your resource is going to be, especially with law enforcement," said the spokesperson.

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