DOJ Targets More Sanctuaries

By Jessica M. Vaughan on November 16, 2017

Yesterday DOJ sent a letter to 29 sanctuary jurisdictions that received law enforcement grants under the Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants program in 2016, warning them that they appear to be in violation of federal law and may have to repay the funds. In addition, they could be barred from receiving funds in 2017. Collectively, these jurisdictions received more than $16.7 million last year.

Our sanctuary cities maps are updated to reflect this development.

Under rules imposed in 2016 by previous Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the insistence of House appropriator John Culberson (R-Texas), all applicants for these grants must attest that they are in compliance with all federal laws, especially including 8 USC 1373. That law, passed in 1996, says that no state or local government can have a policy that in any way restricts communication or exchange of information about immigration status between local officials and federal immigration authorities.

Lynch's DOJ initiated an investigation into 10 sanctuaries that received $96.1 million from two DOJ funding programs in 2016. New Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued the process of notifying the jurisdictions, allowing them time to change their policies, and determining if they still qualify for the grants. Four of the original 10 jurisdictions either changed their policies or were able to convince DOJ that they are not now sanctuaries (Miami-Dade County; Clark County, Nev.; state of Connecticut; Milwaukee County). Five are now presumably facing a loss of funds (New York City; Chicago; Philadelphia; Cook County, Ill.; and Orleans Parish, La.). DOJ has not announced its decision on the state of California, which recently enacted a new state law that is even more egregiously restrictive in mandating non-cooperation than the law that DOJ was investigating.

Rather than change, several of the sanctuaries have filed lawsuits to try to force DOJ to back off. So far, three judges have ruled in favor of the sanctuaries, in northern California, Chicago, and, most recently, Philadelphia. All of the judges found that, despite the sanctuaries' claims that DOJ was overstepping its authority and attempting to illegally coerce them to cooperate, it was permissible for DOJ to withhold funds based on illegal sanctuary policies. Nevertheless, all of the judges found other reasons to block DOJ from actually doing it. For example, the Philadelphia judge decided that Philadelphia was not a sanctuary. As a result of the litigation, DOJ has had to delay disbursing all of the 2017 grants.

The following table lists the sanctuary jurisdictions that received warning letters and the amount of funding currently at risk.

List of Byrne/JAG Grants to Sanctuary Jurisdictions Receiving DOJ Warning Letters

Jurisdiction State 2016 Byrne/JAG Grant
Berkeley Calif. $37,509
City and County of San Francisco Calif. $522,943
City of Los Angeles Calif. $1,870,503
County of Santa Clara Calif. $72,612
Contra Costa County Calif. $194,562
Fremont Calif. $21,872
Monterey County Calif. $17,607
Riverside County Calif. $54,551
Sacramento County Calif. $241,650
Santa Ana Calif. $99,109
Sonoma County Calif. $48,287
Watsonville City Calif. $20,115
City and County of Denver/Denver Police Colo. $426,590
Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants D.C. $1,476,400
City of West Palm Beach Fla. $61,115
Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Ill. $6,742,363
Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government Ky. $598,104
Lawrence City Mass. $71,811
Jackson City Miss. $260,499
City of Newark Police Dept N.J. $525,446
Middlesex County N.J. $17,862
Bernalillo County N.M. $63,236
Albany – Dept of Public Safety N.Y. $65,738
Multnomah County Ore. $173,088
Oregon Criminal Justice Commission Ore. $2,080,047
City of Burlington Vt. $39,945
City of Seattle Wash. $673,166
King County Wash. $203,065

In June, the House of Representatives passed the No Sanctuary For Criminals Act, sponsored by Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), in order to clarify that local jurisdictions may not impose sanctuary policies, stipulate additional grants that can be withheld from sanctuaries, affirm ICE's authority to request detention of criminal aliens, require the detention of certain criminal aliens, protect local law enforcement agencies that cooperate with ICE, and allow victims of very serious crimes enabled by sanctuary policies to sue those jurisdictions. The bill has not been taken up in the Senate.

Earlier this week, Sessions appeared before the House Judiciary committee, and while most of the hearing focused on other issues, two members expressed strong support for the DOJ moves against sanctuaries.

Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said:

Mr. Attorney General, first of all I want to thank you for all of your efforts to restore the rule of law. Nothing could be more important to our justice system and nothing could be more important to protecting the lives of Americans, and frankly not just protecting their lives but keeping all Americans safe. In particular, many of us appreciate your efforts to crank down on sanctuary cities that blatantly ignore federal immigration laws. ... I have been waiting 20 years for a President and an administration that would enforce current immigration laws. It so happens that I introduced a bill in 1996 for Senator Al Simpson that, among other things, outlawed sanctuary cities. So the law is there and I want to thank you for being willing to enforce that law which will protect many innocent Americans from harm and perhaps save their lives.

Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) asked specifically about the new grant conditions:

Representing and speaking for the sheriffs across the country and chiefs of police as well, one of the issues that I know that they have a great deal of concern about is through your grant process if you could just have someone look at the situation where non-relevant criteria are placed on grants to require agencies to meet some performance criteria. ... Have you had any issues with that?

Sessions replied:

Well the statute Congress passed for the grant program allows the Department of Justice to place special conditions on grants. The one we placed that deals with the future sanctuary cities is minimal, it simply requires a cooperative relationship where federal officials can go the jail and that the people at the jail can communicate with the federal law enforcement officers, it does not require the states to go arrest people or hold them past their release date, none of those things. We think it's a very reasonable thing… that's the one I think we have added to it.

Rutherford answered, "Well I can tell you that's not the one I'm concerned about. In fact the Sheriffs and Chiefs support that wholeheartedly."