WASHINGTON >> The Justice Department is looking to use its control over coveted grant money to nudge so-called sanctuary cities into greater cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities, despite a judge’s ruling that blocked President Donald Trump’s effort to cut off millions to such communities.
A judge in April struck down Trump’s executive order on the matter, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions of his own to grants that were approved by Congress.
But in a memo issued Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department still can put more stringent conditions on the money it doles out and “may seek to tailor grants to promote a lawful system of immigration.”
The memo reasserts the department’s position that Trump’s executive order applies to a relatively small amount of money, specifically grants that require localities to comply with a specific immigration law related to information-sharing among police and federal immigration authorities. In striking down the order, the judge said Trump’s own rhetoric showed the administration intended it to apply broadly to all sorts of federal funding.
The judge issued the ruling in response to two lawsuits, one brought by the city of San Francisco, the other by Santa Clara County.
Justice Department officials have suggested they could still look for ways to keep federal grant money from cities that decline voluntary requests from immigration officials to keep defendants in custody while they await deportation — or to reward cities that do cooperate.
The department has already threatened to pull money from jurisdictions that prevent local police and sheriffs from freely sharing information with federal immigration authorities about the citizenship status of people in their custody. It sent warning letters to nine localities in April, though most of the cities that received them denied being out of compliance.
Some cities remained defiant after the Monday memo.
The memo “doesn’t change the constitutional problems of the executive order. That order tried to take away all federal funding from sanctuary cities, and we can’t trust this administration not to make good on its threats,” San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera said. “The federal government can’t hold a gun to the head of cities and counties and force them to spend their limited police resources on immigration enforcement.”