Federal judge blocks Sessions from denying public safety grants to 'sanctuary cities'

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber issued a nationwide order on Friday afternoon to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions from denying law enforcement grants to so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Leinenweber, a judge for the Northern District of Illinois, said Sessions had likely exceeded his authority by imposing restrictions on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Sessions required local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigrations authorities, detain possibly unauthorized immigrants in jail for an extra 48 hours and allow immigration agents into jails to apprehend detainees.

Chicago filed a complaint against Sessions on Aug. 7 to have the restrictions overturned, and Leinenweber released both an opinion and an order against them, preventing Sessions from implementing the restrictions in any other cities.

“These new conditions … fly in the face of longstanding city policy that promotes cooperation between local law enforcement and immigrant communities, ensures access to essential city services for all residents, and makes all Chicagoans safer,” Chicago said in its complaint to the court.

In a memorandum and order, Leinenweber said he was granting the nationwide block against the restrictions because there was “no reason” to think these issues wouldn’t apply to other cities. Leinenweber also said under Sessions’ conditions, cities are forced to make an impossible choice: ruin the trust held with their immigrant communities or risk losing funding that keeps their streets safe.

“Once such trust is lost, it cannot be repaired through an award of money damages, making it the type of harm that is especially hard to ‘rectif(y) by (a) final judgment,’” Leinenweber said.

The grant in question, commonly known as the Byrne JAG Grant, is used to provide extra funding for personnel, equipment and training for local law enforcement. As a formula grant, each state’s allocation of funding is decided based on population and reported amount of violent crimes.

The Trump administration originally announced the sweeping grant restrictions in July shortly after Senate Bill 4, also known as the “sanctuary cities” bill, finished battling its way through the Texas Legislature.

Undocumented student Samuel Cervantes said for those in the undocumented community, it was like being attacked from every level of government. Cervantes is also a member of University Leadership Initiative, a group that advocates for the undocumented community.

“The federal government is trying to take this abrasive (approach to law enforcement),” said Cervantes, a government and communication studies senior. “It’s just not very smart to cut funding that affects citizens and non-citizens just to get a point across. It’s very egotistical.”

ULI member Vanessa Rodriguez, a government sophomore, agreed that the federal government was overstepping its bounds in attempting to place these requirements to receive public safety grants. Cities, she said, are closer to their constituents and can better ascertain how to handle public safety than a distant national entity.

“The (preliminary injunction) was just,” Rodriguez said. “The purpose of law enforcement is to protect people, and no money is taken specifically to say, ‘Hey, let me help you, undocumented person.’ It’s only funding for the (entire) city. It’s been going on for years before it became such a conflicting argument to think about.”