SAN FRANCISCO — California’s power struggle with the president over immigration policy intensified Monday as Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced his office will sue the Trump administration over its latest threat to withhold grant money from local law enforcement agencies that don’t agree to new conditions on immigration enforcement.
“It’s an ominous threat,” Becerra said, calling it “not only reckless but illegal.”
Appearing with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera in San Francisco, Becerra said he would join the city — which filed a similar lawsuit — in the fight to keep nearly $30 million in annual federal grant dollars flowing to California law enforcement agencies for gang-prevention and other long-standing programs.
“It’s a low blow to our men and women who wear the badge for the federal government to threaten their crime-fighting resources in order to force them to do the work of the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement,” Becerra said.
At stake is the more than the $28 million Congress has allocated to California through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. Each state is by law entitled to a share of the funds, Becerra’s office said, but for the first time the Department of Justice is trying to impose special conditions on applicants.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to block those dollars from agencies that don’t comply with new conditions: giving federal immigration agents greater access to jails and a 48-hour notice before releasing an inmate facing deportation.
California, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. State law already restricts federal agents’ access to inmates and limits the practice of keeping someone in jail longer for deportation purposes. And the Legislature is considering a proposal from Senate Leader Kevin de León, Senate Bill 54, that would further restrict communication between local officers and federal immigration agents.
Joel Anderson, a Republican state senator representing San Diego County and a vocal opponent of SB 54, said he agrees with the conditions Sessions aims to place on the grant.
“I’m disappointed AG Becerra lied when he said the most heinous of undocumented criminals should be deported,” he said in a written response to this news organization. “Today he is fighting the Trump Administration to shield those same undocumented felons from deportation.”
The California State Sheriffs’ Association also is fighting SB 54, known as the “sanctuary state” bill, which will likely be debated after lawmakers return to Sacramento Monday from summer recess. The group argues that the proposal would shield dangerous people from deportation, placing immigrant communities at risk. Asked Monday about its position on the proposed grant conditions and the lawsuit, a spokeswoman said that the association was still reviewing the matter.
In an interesting political twist, the association last December endorsed the nomination of Sessions for U.S. Attorney General.
Tying new conditions to law enforcement grant money is just the latest attempt by the Trump administration to crack down on what are known as “sanctuary” cities and counties — a loosely-defined term used to describe governments such as Alameda and Santa Clara counties that have vowed to help shield everyday undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Shortly after his inauguration, President Donald Trump — who campaigned on an illegal-immigration crackdown — signed an executive order to strip sanctuary cities of all federal funding. But that order was quickly challenged by Santa Clara and San Francisco counties and was blocked in federal court. Sessions responded with new conditions that target only the crime-fighting grants.
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