Judge blocks Trump order on sanctuary city funding

File: Donald Trump attends the grand opening ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel Oct. 26, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
File: Donald Trump attends the grand opening ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel Oct. 26, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a Trump administration order to withhold funding from communities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued the temporary ruling in a lawsuit against the executive order targeting so-called sanctuary cities. The decision will stay in place while the lawsuit works its way through court.

The Trump administration and two California governments that sued over the order disagreed about its scope during a recent court hearing.

San Francisco and Santa Clara County argued that it threatened billions of dollars in federal funding for each of them, making it difficult to plan their budgets.

"It's not like it's just some small amount of money," John Keker, an attorney for Santa Clara County, told Orrick at the April 14 hearing.

Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general, said the county and San Francisco were interpreting the executive order too broadly. The funding cutoff applies to three Justice Department and Homeland Security Department grants that require complying with a federal law that local governments not block officials from providing people's immigration status, he said.

The order would affect less than $1 million in funding for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco, Readler said.

Republican President Donald Trump was using a "bully pulpit" to "encourage communities and states to comply with the law," Readler said.

In his ruling, Orrick sided with San Francisco and Santa Clara, saying the order "by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing."

"The rest of the order is broader still, addressing all federal funding," Orrick said. "And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments."

He said: "Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves."

Los Angeles is among the cities that limits its cooperation with immigration enforcement agents. The city has policies like the LAPD’s Special Order 40, which bars officers from stopping people to ask about immigration status.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti cheered Tuesday's ruling.

"We were confident that we were on strong constitutional grounds should the administration attempt to withdraw funds, but this is even before they made those attempts," Garcetti said.

"I think it really helps us refocus our efforts on what we need to do, which is to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality for our country, and to figure out ways to make people citizens, and not criminalize our cities or individuals in this arena,” he said.

The Trump administration says sanctuary cities allow dangerous criminals back on the street and that the order is needed to keep the country safe. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities say turning local police into immigration officers erodes trust that's needed to get people to report crime.

The order also has led to lawsuits by Seattle; two Massachusetts cities, Lawrence and Chelsea; and a third San Francisco Bay Area government, the city of Richmond. The San Francisco and Santa Clara County suits were the first to get a hearing before a judge.

San Francisco and the county argued in court documents that the president did not have the authority to set conditions on the allocation of federal funds and could not force local officials to enforce federal immigration law.

They also said Trump's order applied to local governments that didn't detain immigrants for possible deportation in response to federal requests, not just those that refused to provide people's immigration status.

The Department of Justice responded that the city and county's lawsuits were premature because decisions about withholding funds and what local governments qualified as sanctuary cities had yet to be made.

John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University, said the Tuesday's court ruling may be interpreted over broadly.

"I think it’s going to be portrayed as blocking President Trump’s efforts against sanctuary cities, and in fact it doesn’t do that. It specifically allows him to continue to enforce conditions in grants that, say, you’ve got to provide information to us about who you are holding in your jails," he said.

Eastman said these conditions apply to grant programs such as the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. It provides federal money to states, counties and cities that incur costs for jailing unauthorized immigrants. 

The sanctuary city order was among a flurry of immigration measures Trump has signed since taking office in January, including a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and a directive calling for a wall on the border with Mexico.

A federal appeals court blocked the travel ban. The administration then revised it, but the new version also is stalled in court.