Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that any states and cities receiving federal Justice Department grants will have to certify that they aren’t acting as “sanctuaries” for immigrants in the country illegally.
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Finally, the other shoe drops.
For months President Trump has been threatening to defund “out of control” California and the “sanctuary cities” within its borders for policies that he considers violations of federal immigration law. These challenges from the Oval Office have raised the hackles of state Democrats, just they have raised questions among legal scholars wondering how—and to what extent—the President plans to unilaterally pull federal funds from uncooperative cities and states.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered an answer to those questions today.
At a press conference at the White House this morning, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would begin to consider withholding grants from so-called sanctuary cities and states.
The Trump administration defines a sanctuary jurisdiction as those that violate Title 8, section 1373 of the U.S. Code. That section bars cities and states from regulating if and how local, state, or federal government officials share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“The (federal government) will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with 1373 as a condition of receiving those awards,” said Sessions. He also warned that the department would “take all lawful steps to clawback” grant funds that have already been awarded to designated sanctuary cities.
Last year, California law enforcement agencies received $132 million in grant money from the Department. Sessions said that the Department plans to award $4.1 billion in such grants across the country this coming year.
High-profile sanctuary cities like San Francisco, which Sessions called out specifically during his speech, deny that they are in violation of Section 1373. Nevertheless, California Democrats are responding to Sessions remarks as a provocation.
“The announcement today by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is nothing short of blackmail,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León in a statement.
Likewise, Senator Kamala Harris took her response to Twitter:
California won’t deny access to public safety, public health, or public education because of threats from this administration. https://t.co/yqe324c1FE
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) March 27, 2017
And in a press release issued this afternoon, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called it a “low blow to our brave men and women in uniform to threaten to withhold public safety funding that they have earned unless Donald Trump gets his way on immigration.”
Even so, the Attorney General’s statement today may come as a relief to some California lawmakers. President Trump’s earlier statements left it unclear whether the administration intended to strip all federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions (something that many legal scholars say courts would consider an overreach) or to simply cut off grants that directly relate to local and state law enforcement.
The Attorney General’s announcement this morning amounted to a threat to withhold roughly $130 million from California. That isn’t peanuts, but it’s less than one-twentieth of one percent of the $368 billion that the state receives from D.C. every year.