Herrera and Becerra sue Trump administration to stop latest attack on sanctuary cities

SF and California file coordinated lawsuits against U.S. Department of Justice

Herrera-and-Becerra-300x300SAN FRANCISCO (Aug. 14, 2017) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced today that he had filed a second lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s administration, this time over the U.S. Department of Justice instituting unconstitutional new conditions on federal law enforcement grants.

“This president is bent on trying to vilify immigrants and punish cities that prioritize real, effective public safety over splitting up hard-working families,” Herrera said. “Trump attacked sanctuary cities in January with his unlawful executive order. We stopped him in court. Then he tried to sneak through a change in the law by burying it deep in his budget. Now he’s trying to have one of his departments rewrite the rules. So we’re back in court once again, with allies by our side, to compel him to follow the law.”

San Francisco’s lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is part of a coordinated effort with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra who will file a similar lawsuit today on behalf of the state.

“The Trump Administration cannot manipulate federal grant fund requirements to pressure states, counties or municipalities to enforce federal immigration laws,” said Becerra. “By placing unconstitutional immigration enforcement conditions on public safety grants, the Trump Administration is threatening to harm a range of law enforcement initiatives across California. This is pure intimidation intended to force our law enforcement into changing the policies and practices that they have determined promote public safety. It’s a low blow to our brave men and women who wear the badge, and to the communities they serve. We will fight these unlawful federal actions that would make California less safe.”


San Francisco’s lawsuit was filed against U.S. Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions III, Acting Assistant Attorney General Alan R. Hanson and the U.S. Department of Justice. It seeks a court order declaring Sessions’ new grant conditions unconstitutional and void.

By imposing these new conditions on law enforcement grants awarded to state and local governments, the executive branch is unilaterally giving itself power that belongs to Congress, violating the Constitution’s separation of powers. It is also imposing conditions that even Congress lacks the power to impose, violating the Constitution’s spending clause.  The lawsuit notes, for instance, that one of the new grant conditions, which in practice would require detaining people past their release date, violates 4th Amendment protections against being jailed without probable cause.

“Once again, this president is attempting an end-run around the Constitution,” Herrera said. “The Department of Justice does not have authority from Congress to impose these conditions, and for good reason. In the name of public safety, this president is undercutting law enforcement and trying to withhold money used to reduce crime. That’s like burning a mountain of coal in the name of environmental protection. Maybe that makes sense to this White House, but it doesn’t add up for most Americans.”

The Department of Justice announced in a July 25 press release that it was adding new conditions to be eligible for Fiscal Year 2017 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants. These grants have been awarded annually for more than three decades. The department describes them as “the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.” In Fiscal Year 2016 the program provided $263.9 million in grants nationwide for programs ranging from a domestic violence shelter to police vehicles.

Sessions threatened to withhold the grant funding unless local governments agree to two unauthorized and unlawful conditions:

  • allow federal immigration agents unlimited access to local detention facilities to interrogate detainees about their immigration status, and
  • upon request, provide 48 hours notice to immigration agents before releasing someone that the federal government suspects — often wrongly — is in the country unlawfully. That means residents and U.S. citizens could be jailed without probable cause, and cities or states could face legal liability for holding someone past their release date to provide the federal government the required notice.

There is no federal law that requires local jurisdictions to provide advance notice to federal immigration authorities before releasing someone purportedly in the country unlawfully from their custody. Nor is there any federal law requiring local authorities to grant federal officials access to local detention facilities to interrogate people in custody.

Federal Coercion

“This is a backdoor attempt to coerce states and local governments to carry out federal immigration enforcement,” Herrera said. “Immigration enforcement is the federal government’s job. They can do it in San Francisco and every other city in the country. We’re not stopping them. But our police and deputies are focused on fighting crime, not breaking up hard-working families.”

The new grant conditions are part of the Trump administration’s continued misguided assault on sanctuary cities. These jurisdictions limit their coordination with federal immigration officials and use their law enforcement resources to fight crime rather than perform federal immigration enforcement, which often involves jailing individuals who have not committed a crime and have only committed civil violations, like overstaying a visa.  

“The Trump administration is vilifying immigrants while falsely claiming that sanctuary cities are havens for criminals,” Herrera said. “The opposite is true. Sanctuary policies improve public safety by ensuring anyone can seek help if they are the victim of a crime. They can call 911 without fear that it will lead to them or someone they know being deported. This cooperation with law enforcement gets criminals off the streets and makes everyone safer.”

Sanctuary Cities Have Less Crime

Not only does research show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native residents, a UC San Diego researcher found that sanctuary jurisdictions have lower crime and less poverty.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Major Cities Chiefs Association of police leaders have expressed public concern over Trump’s earlier executive order on sanctuary cities, saying: “Cities that aim to build trusting and supportive relations with immigrant communities should not be punished because this is essential to reducing crime and helping victims.”

“We’re safer when all people, including undocumented immigrants, feel safe reporting crimes to authorities,” Herrera said. “We’re healthier when all residents access public health programs.  We’re economically and socially stronger when all children attend school.  And our communities are strengthened when members of the public, including undocumented immigrants, can use transit, visit libraries, take their children to school or visit their neighborhood playground without fear.”

More than 600 cities, counties and states have some type of sanctuary policy, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Money to Fight Crime

California faces the prospect of losing $28.3 million in Byrne JAG funds in fiscal 2017, with San Francisco potentially losing $1.4 million. The money is slated for programs spanning seven city departments, including the Police Department, Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office. The grant would fund initiatives designed to reduce recidivism, deter drug use, provide services to at-risk youth, and supervise probationers with substance abuse and/or mental health issues.  One program is Young Adult Court, where 18 to 24 year olds accused of certain crimes are put on a structured path to productivity. They are required to check in weekly with the court as they pursue therapy, life-skills classes and employment. If they successfully complete the program, they can have their charges dropped or reduced.

Herrera first sued the president on Jan. 31, 2017 to halt implementation of Trump’s executive order denying federal funds to “sanctuary jurisdictions” that allegedly violated 8 U.S.C. 1373, a section of federal law that prohibits state and local governments from restricting their staff from communicating with federal immigration agents about someone’s citizenship or immigration status. Other local governments followed San Francisco’s lead and filed similar lawsuits, including Santa Clara County and the cities of Richmond and Seattle. A federal judge in San Francisco on April 25, 2017 issued a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the executive order nationwide, saying it violated “basic and fundamental constitutional structures.”

The new grant conditions represent a different way to try to cut off certain funding to localities with sanctuary laws.

The case is: City and County of San Francisco v. Jefferson B. Sessions III, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Case No. 3:17-cv-04642, filed Aug. 11, 2017. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: httpss://www.sfcityattorney.org

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