The Trump administration has secured a massive victory in the fight against “sanctuary” cities after a federal appeals ruled that it can deny grant money to states that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York overturned a lower court ruling that stopped the administration’s 2017 move to withhold grant money from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which dispenses over $250 million a year to state and local criminal justice efforts.
“Today’s decision rightfully recognizes the lawful authority of the Attorney General to ensure that Department of Justice grant recipients are not at the same time thwarting federal law enforcement priorities,” a DOJ spokesman said in a statement.
The statement continues, “The grant conditions here require states and cities that receive DOJ grants to share information about criminals in custody. The federal government uses this information to enforce national immigration laws–policies supported by successive Democrat and Republican administrations.”
“All Americans will benefit from increased public safety as this Administration is able to implement its lawful immigration and public safety policies,” the statement said.
The latest decision conflicts with rulings from other appeals courts across the country concerning sanctuary policies, indicating a Supreme Court review is ultimately likely.
New York City and liberal states including New York, Washington, Massachusetts and Connecticut sued the government, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York backed them — ordering the money be released and stopping the government from putting immigration-related conditions on grants.
But the appeals court ruled that it “cannot agree that the federal government must be enjoined from imposing the challenged conditions on the federal grants here at issue.”
“These conditions help the federal government enforce national immigration laws and policies supported by successive Democratic and Republican administrations,” the court ruled. “But more to the authorization point, they ensure that applicants satisfy particular statutory grant requirements imposed by Congress and subject to Attorney General oversight.”
It also disagreed with the district court’s claim that the conditions intrude on powers reserved only to states, noting that in immigration policy the Supreme Court has found that the federal government maintains “broad” and “preeminent” power.
The ruling marks a key victory for the administration as it looks to fight through the use of “sanctuary” policies that restrict the country’s abilities to enforce its immigration laws in ways such as limiting local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities in order to shield illegal immigrants from deportation.
The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Howell, a former member of Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Legal Counsel, said the ruling is potentially an important development considering the dependence of states like New York on DOJ grant money.
“When you look at the amount of money that flows in via grants generally, the federal government has a lot of power over states and localities,” he said. “If you open the door to the federal government being able to condition that grant money, it’s a huge deal.”
Proponents of the policies claim it makes cities safer because it encourages illegal immigrants to cooperate with police without fear of deportation. But the Trump administration has been relentlessly pushing back by highlighting cases in which criminals are released onto the streets only to re-offend.
It has also deployed a series of measures to combat the practice, including deploying elite Border Patrol agents to sanctuary cities to help ICE track down and detain illegal immigrants.
The Justice Department recently announced a slew of measures, and President Trump has called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants to sue sanctuary cities and states.
“Not one more American life should be stolen by sanctuary cities; they’re all over the place and a lot of people don’t want them,” Trump said at the State of the Union address this month.