Sanctuary Cities Stand to Lose $32 Million in Grants for Police
Think tank says Justice Department crackdown could bite cities, counties that thwart immigration enforcement
Last week’s move by the Justice Department to condition a law enforcement grant program on cooperation with federal immigration authorities could cost “sanctuary” cities more that $32 million, according to a Washington-based think tank.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that cities and counties applying for Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program grants must certify that they are in compliance with federal law requiring cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.
The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that some 300 jurisdictions have adopted some form of sanctuary policy prohibiting full cooperation with ICE.
Based on an analysis of fiscal year 2016 data, the center concluded that the cities and counties most likely to run afoul of the Justice Department guidelines would have lost $32.7 million in grants funding, for example, equipment, salaries, training and education programs.
The Justice Department awards the grants for specific purposes, so the amounts vary from year to year. President Donald Trump has requested $380 million total for the grant program for fiscal year 2018.
"A lot of people are going to be be upset," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies of the Center for Immigration Studies, who prepared the think tank's sanctuary jurisdiction report.
Sessions is demanding that JAG grant recipients:
- certify compliance with a federal statute that bars state and local governments from prohibiting employees from communicating with federal immigration authorities;
- permit Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers access to jails; and
- give ICE at least 48 hours' notice before releasing any illegal immigrant who federal authorities have asked to be held.
Sanctuaries Show Resistance
In their words and their deeds, however, the leaders of sanctuary jurisdictions do not appear to be backing down. ICE officials said Friday that they had requested in December that the Multnomah County Jail in Oregon give the agency 48 hours notice before it released an illegal immigrant named Sergio Martinez, who has been deported 13 times since 2008 and has a criminal records spanning three states.
"However, despite the detainer, local authorities released Mr. Martinez back into the community the following day without providing any notification to ICE," the agency said in a news release.
"I expect that some of these people are going to want to be martyrs for these sanctuary policies."
Martinez faces new charges of first-degree robbery, sex abuse, and second-degree assault in connection with alleged attacks on two Portland-area women last week.
Local leaders of sanctuary jurisdictions also lashed out at the Justice Department last week.
"This is not the administration's first attempt to unlawfully withhold funding, and it probably won't be their last," a spokesman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Tribune. "But we will not be bullied into abandoning our values."
|Highest 2016 Byrne/JAG grants to sanctuary jurisdictions|
|NYC Mayor's Office||$4.3 million|
|Los Angeles||$1.9 million|
|Clark County (Nev.)||$975.6K|
|Alameda County (Calif.)||876.4K|
|San Bernardino Co. (CA)||$626K|
|All sanctuaries||$32.7 million|
San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera told Courthouse News that the restriction may be unconstitutional. Supervisor Jane Kim told the news organization that the city would resist federal efforts to alter its policies.
"Threatening to cut San Francisco's criminal justice grant funding because we are a sanctuary city will not change our commitment to protect our undocumented residents," she said in a statement provided to Courthouse News.
Still, there are signs that cutting off access to the grants would be painful to some.
In Philadelphia, which used $1.68 million in JAG funding — one of the largest grants awarded last year — to pay for police training, Police Commissioner Richard Ross told News Works that losing the funding would be a "tremendous" blow to the department.
"It's something we're very worried about," he said. "Hopefully calmer minds and thoughts will prevail because we can ill afford to have that happen in a city like Philadelphia."
Targeting 'Martyrs for These Sanctuary Policies'
Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies said it is not surprising that cities and counties with the deepest commitments to thwarting federal immigration enforcement are not rushing to capitulate.
"I expect that some of these people are going to want to be martyrs for these sanctuary policies," she said.
But Vaughan predicted that restricting JAG grants is only the first step. There are other Justice Department grants that Sessions undoubtedly will move on to, she said.
As to the question of whether Sessions has the authority to block funds to sanctuary cities, Heritage Foundation legal scholar Hans von Spakovsky said 8 U.S. Code § 1373 makes it clear that cities and counties cannot prohibit employees from exchanging information with ICE.
"They can go to court, but they're gonna lose," he said.
A federal judge in California ruled that Trump's executive order targeting sanctuary jurisdictions was overly broad but made clear that the Justice Department could proceed as long as it sticks to conditions imposed by Congress. Von Spakovsky said he does not believe a legal battle would drag on for years.
"I think it would be fairly quickly, because I think they are going to lose quickly," he said.
As to the prospect that sanctuary cities would be willing to forego funding, that's a different issue, von Spakovsky said.
"Will it deter people? That's going to depend entirely on the size of sanctuary cities and the proportion they rely on those law enforcement grant dollars," he said.