CHICAGO >> A federal judge in Chicago today denied a request by the U.S. Department of Justice to lift a national freeze on a Trump administration policy that would withhold public safety grants to so-called sanctuary cities that don’t agree to tougher enforcement of U.S. immigration law.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber’s ruling comes a month after he imposed a preliminary injunction blocking the administration from tying the grants to two new conditions, including that cities give immigration agents easy access to local jails.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued it was wrong to apply an order nationally in a case brought by Chicago and that it should only apply to that city. Even before Friday’s ruling, the Justice Department already took its objections to the injunction to the Chicago-based U.S. 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Leinenweber agreed in his written ruling that such a sweeping freeze was an “extraordinary remedy” that a U.S. district judge shouldn’t resort to lightly. But he said the legal issues in the Chicago case impact cities and counties nationwide and so a nationwide injunction is called for.
“An injunction (that only applied to Chicago) would leave the Attorney General free to continue enforcing the likely invalid conditions against (those applying for the public safety grants),” he wrote. “This state of affairs flies in the face of the rule of law and the role of the courts to ensure the rule of law is enforced.”
He added that courts have long recognized an interest in ensuring federal courts interpret federal law uniformly.
“The rule of law is undermined where a court holds that the Attorney General is likely engaging in legally unauthorized conduct, but nevertheless allows that conduct in other jurisdictions across the country,” Leinenweber wrote.
The Justice Department on Thursday said it was giving four cities — Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans — a “last chance” to show they’re not thwarting enforcement of U.S. immigration law before possibly losing grants that help pay for police cars and public safety equipment.
It added that the four cities have until Oct. 27 to show they are complying with other, long-standing federal law, including a nearly 20-year-old statute that says cities can’t hinder information sharing with immigration agents.
It was unclear how that threat might be affected by the ongoing legal battle in federal court.