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9th Circuit: Separation of powers protects sanctuary city grants

A federal appeals court has just struck down the Trump administration's plan to punish so-called "sanctuary" jurisdictions by refusing to issue approved criminal justice grants. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that separation of powers and the constitution's Spending Clause vest spending decisions exclusively with Congress.

San Francisco and Santa Clara County initiated the lawsuit on behalf of themselves and other California sanctuary jurisdictions (which include the state itself). They pointed out that Congress had not conditioned the grants on any jurisdiction's agreement to go along with the Trump administration's immigration enforcement priorities. Since only Congress can make such conditions, they argued, the executive branch cannot use these grants to punish sanctuary jurisdictions. A trial court ruled in favor of the cities.

The Ninth Circuit agreed. "We conclude that, under the principle of separation of powers and in consideration of the Spending Clause, which vests exclusive power to Congress to impose conditions on federal grants, the executive branch may not refuse to disperse the federal grants in question without congressional authorization," the majority wrote.

The appellate court did overrule the district judge, however, on whether a nationwide injunction was needed. The trial judge issued one, but the appellate court felt he had overstepped his authority without a sufficient record. They reduced the injunction to apply only in California and ordered the trial court to hold a hearing on whether the injunction needs to be national in scope.

What are sanctuary jurisdictions?

Despite the name, sanctuary jurisdictions don't actually provide sanctuary to immigrants. Instead, they seek to promote positive relations between immigrant communities and law enforcement by keeping law enforcement out of immigration enforcement. Each jurisdiction makes its own decision on exactly what federal immigration priorities it can comply with while protecting those positive relations.

For example, sanctuary jurisdictions may refuse to report unauthorized immigrants to ICE when those immigrants are discovered during the ordinary course of law enforcement. They may refuse to place immigrants on "ICE holds" instead of releasing them from jail or prison. Some sanctuary jurisdictions prohibit their police from even asking about someone's immigration status.

When California became a "sanctuary state" last October, it set a policy in place restricting the ability of law enforcement to arrest or detain immigrants, especially in "safe zones" such as schools and courthouses.

These rules are meant to make even unauthorized immigrants feel safe when reporting crimes, dealing with legal issues and sending their children to school.

If you have an immigration issue, contact the Yew Immigration Law Group. We have years of experience helping people with family, employment and business immigration.

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