Federal judge rules against DOJ policy that rewards police for cooperating with ICE

"This is a complete victory."

Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters in Los Angeles, California on September 10, 2017.  (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters in Los Angeles, California on September 10, 2017. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled this week that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot withhold public safety, policing grants in so-called “sanctuary cities” where local law enforcement officials can choose not to turn over suspected undocumented immigrants in custody over to federal immigration authorities.

U.S. District Judge Manuel Real issued a “permanent, nationwide ban against a Justice Department policy that gave an edge to obliging police departments applying for a community policing grant program,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The ruling agreed with an argument made by the city of Los Angeles that the DOJ had “abused its power by awarding bonus points to grant applicants that commit to cooperating with federal immigration authorities and policies,” according to Bloomberg News. The ruling would thus prevent the DOJ from withholding the Community Oriented Policing Services grant, funding that helps local police departments hire new officers for “community policing.”

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“This is a complete victory,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said according to the Los Angeles Times. Feuer challenged the DOJ policies in federal court last year. “This is yet another dagger in the heart of the administration’s efforts to use federal funds as a weapon to make local jurisdictions complicit in its civil immigration enforcement policies.”

The Los Angeles Police Department applied for the COPS funding last year, but was rejected. The loss of funding meant the LAPD was unable “to hire 25 officers for the community policing program in Harvard Park, one of the city’s deadliest neighborhood,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The publication added that funding instead came from private donors and local public funds.The city cannot retroactively seek money, which the federal judge said could put them at a disadvantage in the future.

Under the DOJ policies, localities would have to abide by new policies like notifying federal authorities of suspected undocumented immigrants in local custody and allowing access to detention facilities and data files. The ruling was criticized by a  DOJ spokesperson who called the ruling “overbroad and inconsistent with the rule of law.”

“The department has the lawful discretion to give additional consideration for jurisdictions that prioritize the safety of their communities and their law enforcement officers when they promise to cooperate with federal immigration authorities seeking information about illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement.

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The Trump administration has routinely claimed that sanctuary cities are places that protect criminal immigrants. But immigrant advocacy groups say that cities are much safer when immigrants and people of color feel like they can report crimes to police departments without being detained themselves.

San Francisco previously challenged the Trump administration’s threats to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary jurisdictions.” A federal judge in Philadelphia similarly ruled in 2017 that the DOJ cannot withhold funding from the city based on conditions deemed “improper under settled principles of the Spending Clause, the Tenth Amendment, and principles of federalism.” Another federal judge in Chicago said that the president couldn’t set conditions on spending controlled by Congress, the Chicago Tribune reported in November 2017.