NEW YORK -- The Trump administration can withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement grants to force states to cooperate with U.S. immigration enforcement, a federal appeals court in New York ruled Wednesday in a decision that conflicted with three other federal appeals courts.
The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned a lower court's decision that ordered the administration to release funding to New York City and seven states -- New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia and Rhode Island.
Judge Edgardo Ramos of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan had ruled in 2018 that the Trump administration could not compel states and cities to cooperate with federal immigration authorities as a condition for receiving the grant money.
The states and city sued the federal government after the Justice Department announced in 2017 that it would withhold grant money from cities and states until they gave federal immigration authorities access to jails and provided notice when someone in the country illegally was about to be released.
Before the change, cities and states seeking grant money were required only to show they were not preventing local law enforcement agencies from communicating with federal authorities about the immigration status of people who were detained.
The U.S. attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, said that such "sanctuary" policies undermined public safety. "So-called sanctuary policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes, " he said.
In 2018, the Justice Department imposed additional conditions on the grant money, though challenges to those have not yet reached the appeals court in New York.
The 2nd Circuit said the plain language of relevant laws makes clear that the U.S. attorney general can impose conditions on states and municipalities receiving money.
And it noted that the Supreme Court has repeatedly observed that the federal government maintains broad power over states when it comes to immigration policies.
In the past two years, federal appeals courts in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco have ruled against the federal government by upholding lower-court injunctions placed on the enforcement of some or all of the challenged conditions.
"While mindful of the respect owed to our sister circuits, we cannot agree that the federal government must be enjoined from imposing the challenged conditions on the federal grants here at issue," the 2nd Circuit three-judge panel said in a decision written by Judge Reena Raggi.
"These conditions help the federal government enforce national immigration laws and policies supported by successive Democratic and Republican administrations. But more to the authorization point, they ensure that applicants satisfy particular statutory grant requirements imposed by Congress and subject to Attorney General oversight," the appeals court said.
It was unclear if the states planned to appeal. The Supreme Court often hears cases to resolve conflicts among federal appeals courts.
The Justice Department praised the decision, issuing a statement calling it a "major victory for Americans."
"Today's decision rightfully recognizes the lawful authority of the attorney general to ensure that Department of Justice grant recipients are not at the same time thwarting federal law enforcement priorities," said Alexei Woltornist, a spokesman for the Justice Department.
The department added that the ruling's effect will be limited because other courts have ruled the other way, giving the plaintiffs in the New York case the opportunity to point to those as reasons to ignore the new conditions.
"This decision is a total break on what has been a unanimous decision from courts and judges across the country that this is illegal," said Cody Wofsy, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project, which filed a brief in the case.
Wofsy called the decision a "real outlier," saying he believed the 2nd Circuit was the nation's first court to side with the Trump administration on the issue.
"Over and over, courts have said the Department of Justice doesn't have authority under governing statutes to impose these conditions," he said. "These conditions are part of the administration's attempts to bully, cajole and coerce state and local governments into participating in federal immigration enforcement activities."
Under the Constitution's federalism principles and the 10th Amendment, Wofsy said, states and municipalities "are entitled to decline to become part of the administration's deportation force."
The federal money in question is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Created in 2006 and named after a young New York police officer fatally shot while guarding the home of a Guyanese immigrant cooperating with authorities investigating drug trafficking, the grant is used by Congress to dispense more than $250 million every year to state and local authorities for criminal justice efforts.
New York City, for instance, receives about $4 million a year in program funding to pay salaries for emergency responders and fund drug prosecutions, among other uses.
The Trump administration has intensified its efforts to crack down on places with sanctuary policies, especially New York, where a law that allows immigrants who lack legal status to obtain driver's licenses and blocks federal authorities from gaining access to a motor vehicles database has led to a bitter standoff between federal and state officials.
The federal government canceled a Medicaid grant that will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, and is delaying funding for the Second Avenue subway and a planned rail tunnel between New York City and New Jersey. It is also blocking New Yorkers from enrolling in Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry, and halting the export of cars with New York titles.
Information for this article was contributed by Larry Neumeister and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press and by Annie Correal of The New York Times.
A Section on 02/27/2020
Print Headline: U.S. wins police-grant ruling; court OKs tying state cash to immigration enforcement