Federal Court Rules Federal Government Can’t Withhold Funding from Sanctuary Cities

A New York federal judge recently gave sanctuary cities a significant legal victory. U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos of Manhattan issued a permanent injunctionprohibiting the Department of Justice (DOJ) from imposing immigration-related conditions on Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) public safety funds distributed in New Jersey, as well as New York City, the state of New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs all received funding for criminal justice initiatives through the Byrne JAG program. Under the program, states and localities may apply for funds to support criminal justice programs in a variety of categories, including law enforcement, prosecution, crime prevention, corrections, drug treatment, technology, victim and witness services, and mental health. The funds are disbursed according to a formula based on the particular jurisdiction’s population and violent crime statistics. 

In 2017, the DOJ imposed three immigration-related grant conditions that grantees must comply with in order to receive funding. According to the DOJ press release announcing the change, the conditions were intended to “encourage . . . ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions to change their policies and partner with federal law enforcement to remove criminals.”

The first condition requires grantees, upon request, to give advance notice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the scheduled release date and time of aliens housed in state or local correctional facilities. The second condition requires grantees to give federal agents access to aliens in state or local correctional facilities in order to question them about their immigration status (the “Access Condition”). The third condition requires grantees to certify their compliance with 8 U.S.C. § 1373, which prohibits states and localities from restricting their officials from communicating with immigration authorities regarding anyone’s citizenship or immigration status (the “Compliance Condition”). 

Under the DOJ policy, grantees are also required to monitor any subgrantees’ compliance with the three conditions, and to notify DOJ if they become aware of “credible evidence” of a violation of the Compliance Condition. Grantees must also certify their compliance with the three conditions, which carries the risk of criminal prosecution, civil penalties, and administrative remedies. 

Court’s Decision

Judge Ramos granted a permanent injunction against the parties before the Court and their political subdivisions as to the three immigration-related grant conditions. “Consistent with every other court that has considered these issues,” Ramos wrote, “the court concludes that defendants did not have lawful authority to impose these conditions.”

In reaching this determination, Judge Ramos relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s sports gambling decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. “It necessarily follows that [8 U.S. Code Section 1373] is unconstitutional under the anticommandeering principles of the Tenth Amendment,” Judge Ramos wrote. “Section 1373’s prohibition on states and localities from restricting their officials from communicating with immigration authorities constitutes a ‘direct order’ to states and localities in violation of the anticommandeering rule.”

Judge Ramos also determined that the three immigration-related conditions violated the separation of powers. “This case is fundamentally about the separation of powers among the branches of our government and the interplay of dual sovereign authorities in our federalist system,” he wrote.Judge Ramos further explained:

Congress has neither conditioned Byrne JAG funds on the three conditions here nor delegated the authority to impose these conditions to the executive branch. The Byrne JAG statute provides ‘a firm commitment’ of funding according to statutorily prescribed criteria, and the executive branch does not have ‘the seemingly limitless power to withhold funds’ from grantees who refuse to accept its unilaterally imposed conditions.

Judge Ramos also agreed that “complying with the unlawful conditions would undermine trust between immigrant communities and local government, which would discourage individuals from reporting crimes, cooperating with investigations, and obtaining medical services, thereby harming public safety and welfare.”

For more information about the court’s decision regarding sanctuary cities or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.

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