By Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News
LOS ANGELES (CN) – The city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit Tuesday to intervene in California and San Francisco’s actions against the Justice Department’s new conditions on sanctuary cities that could disqualify them from funds under a federal public safety grant.
At a mid-morning press conference at City Hall, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer said the Trump administration has no authority to place constraints on cities applying for a grant to prevent and reduce violent crime.
Only Congress has the power to “attach substantive conditions to federal grants established by the Legislature,” the city attorney’s office said in a statement.
“We’re suing to block the Trump administration from unconstitutionally imposing its will on our city,” Feuer said in a statement.
“The administration would put L.A. to the untenable choice of risking a key public safety grant or making LAPD an arm of federal civil immigration policy,” Feuer said. “The administration’s action is as ironic as it is unlawful, since the funds at stake support a model L.A. program targeting violent gang-related crime.”
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Oakland says it is unconstitutional for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department to demand that cities seeking funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant comply with federal authorities’ immigration enforcement actions.
If cities refuse to cooperate with the Justice Department, they may not qualify for funds.
For decades, Los Angeles police officers have not asked about individuals’ immigration status. Since Trump took office, the city has repeatedly said it will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ efforts to detain undocumented immigrants.
To receive funds, L.A. needs to answer questions about how much power ICE agents have to enter local jails and whether the city gives federal immigration officials 48 hours’ notice before releasing a detainee from custody.
Feuer noted during the press conference that the Justice Department’s conditions violate the intent of the grant program, which he says is to support local law enforcement’s crime-fighting efforts rather than civil immigration actions. He said lack of clarity on the 48-hour requirement means the city could be violating a detainee’s civil rights.
“In those instances, continuing to detain the individuals in order to satisfy the 48-hour condition would place the city at risk of being found in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the 10-page lawsuit states.
In 2016, the city received $1.8 million in funding from the Byrne grant and has received $1 million a year from the government since 1997, according to Feuer’s office. This year, the city is eligible to receive $1.9 million based on a formula that uses population and crime data.
Those in support of the administration’s conditions on sanctuary cities say these jurisdictions harbor dangerous criminals. Those opposed argue that the federal government’s current policies on immigration make people distrustful of law enforcement, and less likely to report crime or aid investigations.
On August 3, the Justice Department announced conditions tied to participation in its Public Safety Partnership program funded by the Byrne grant program.
The department said in a statement that it would ask the jurisdictions three questions about their rules, regulations, and policies as it reviews whether they qualify for the program.
At that time, Sessions accused sanctuary cities of endangering law enforcement and the public.
“The Department of Justice is committed to supporting our law enforcement at every level, and that’s why we’re asking ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions to stop making their jobs harder,” Sessions said in a statement. “By taking simple, common-sense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement.”
In August, Chicago took legal action against the Trump administration over the new requirements.