A federal judge issued an injunction Wednesday that blocks the Justice Department’s efforts to withhold federal public safety grants from Philadelphia on the basis the city is not cooperating with federal immigration officials.
The ruling is a blow to the Justice Department, which has sought to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities with policies that shield illegal immigrants from deportation. But unlike another unfavorable ruling out of Chicago, in which a federal judge blocked nationwide enforcement of two grant conditions the DOJ had sought to impose, Wednesday’s decision only applies to the $1.6 million in funds destined for Philadelphia.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, (Reagan appointee) wrote in his opinion that there “is nothing inherently wrong or unusual with imposing conditions on the receipt of benefits,” and that in Philadelphia’s case, the city had adequately complied with the conditions the Justice Department set to impose on the grants.
“Principles of federalism allow a city to deal with local issues as it sees best. The supremacy clause of the Constitution gives the federal government the final say — if, as, and when there is a conflict,” Judge Baylson wrote in the 132-page opinion. “In this case, given Philadelphia’s unique approach to meshing the legitimate needs of the federal government to remove criminal aliens with the City’s promotion of health and safety, there is no conflict of any significance.”
The Justice Department this summer announced stipulations for the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program that require cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in order to be considered eligible for the federal law enforcement funds. Some cities, including Chicago and Philadelphia, sued over the rules and argued that the attorney general doesn’t have the authority to create the eligibility requirements.
A federal judge in Chicago previously ruled that the Justice Department could not enforce two of the three conditions it sought to impose on the Byrne grants: “notice” and “access” conditions that would have required cities to let federal agents into their prisons and jails and to give immigration agents at least 48 hours’ notice before releasing illegal immigrants. But he allowed a third condition to take effect. That condition requires compliance with Section 1373 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code, which prohibits state and local governments from restricting communications with federal immigration authorities “regarding the citizenship or immigration status” of individuals, to remain in effect.
Judge Baylson, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, rejected the notion that Philadelphia was lenient on criminals, writing that it is “not a sanctuary for anyone involved in criminal conduct, nor is it a sanctuary as to any law enforcement investigation, prosecution, or imprisonment after having been found guilty of a crime.”
He issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the Justice Department from rejecting Philadelphia’s 2017 Byrne grant application or withholding funds from the city based on the city’s compliance with Section 1373.
The Justice Department responded Wednesday, with a spokesman saying officials are reviewing the ruling to determine what steps to take next.
“In Philadelphia, 2017 homicides have already eclipsed 2016’s numbers, and so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ further undermine public safety and law enforcement,” DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley said.
The ruling does not mean the city will receive the money immediately however, as the lawsuit brought by Chicago is still pending and has held up distribution of $257 million in Byrne grants to nearly 1,000 state and local agencies this year.
Judge Baylson went on to say that the conditions that Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought to place on Byrne grants “have no relationship to successful police practice or the enforcement of criminal laws in the City.”
“Arrest and prosecution of non-citizens who have committed crimes, is an important part of law enforcement,” Judge Baylson wrote. “However, disclosing their immigration status to ICE has nothing to do with law enforcement, and will not prevent crime.”
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