WASHINGTON – Several Senate Republicans are proposing legislation that would allow Community Development Block Grants and Economic Development Assistance to be withheld from Sanctuary Cities that fail to comply with administration-mandated immigration enforcement.
Seven Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas last week introduced S. 1757, Building America’s Trust Act, which calls for witholding the federal grants and assistance from sanctuary cities. The bill focuses mostly on immigration enforcement at the Southern Border.
The Cornyn legislation incorporates an earlier bill that Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania introduced in January, S. 87, the Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors denounced the Cornyn bill.
“The nation’s mayors strongly oppose a provision in the Building America’s Trust Act ... which would withhold Community Development Block Grant and Economic Development Assistance funding from jurisdictions which have instituted local policies to build trust with immigrant communities and uphold the Constitution in their treatment of people being detained,” said Tom Cochran, CEO & executive director of the mayors group.
“The CDBG program is critical to the community and economic development of our cities’ lower income neighborhoods,’’ Cochran said. “Penalizing it and EDA’s programs is counter-productive, mean-spirited, and likely unconstitutional.’’
The legislation stems form President Trump’s effort to crack down on undocumented immigrants through a Jan. 25 Executive Order that directed the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to withhold law enforcement funds from cities failing to comply with immigration restrictions.
Earlier legislative efforts in the Senate on immigration have failed thus far. The House approved the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act on a largely party-line 228-195 vote in June that would have withheld some DOJ and DHS grants to sanctuary cities, including the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. Efforts to pass a Senate bill in the current Congress haven't moved pass the bill introduction phase.
Meanwhile, several cities have sued the federal government to prevent the withholding of funds for failure to comply with the administration’s restrictions on immigrants.
On July 25, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced new requirements for local law enforcement to “allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice, before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.’’ He made the announcement in connection with the Byrne JAG applications, which must be submitted by Sept. 5.
The latest legal battle came Monday when the city of Chicago filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department for adding new prerequisites for the police grants.
“Chicago is a welcoming city and always will be, and we will not be blackmailed by President Trump's Justice Department,'' Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "Forcing us to choose between our values and our Police Department’s philosophy of community policing is a false choice, and it is a choice that would ultimately undermine our public safety agenda.”
The Chicago lawsuit accuses the Justice Department of unconstitutional executive overreach. “The executive branch of the federal government may not arrogate to itself the powers that our Constitution reserves for Congress, on the one hand, or to state and local governments on the other,’’ it states.
The suit adds that DOJ, “may not concoct and import into the Byrne JAG program sweeping new policy conditions that were never approved (and indeed were considered and rejected) by Congress.’’
President Trump’s effort to crack down on immigration through his Executive Order was blocked by a federal court ruling in April.
U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in San Francisco ruled that the White House effort to withhold funds to cities and other jurisdictions constituted an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers doctrine.
Aside from the April memorandum issued by the Attorney General, there is no official federal definition of a sanctuary city.
The policies in these jurisdictions range from limiting local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to restricting some types of information that can be shared about an alien with federal law enforcement, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
“At least five states (California, Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont); dozens of cities, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Washington, DC; and hundreds of counties limit their assistance to federal immigration law enforcement agencies,’’ CRS said in a Feb. 15 report, citing estimates by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
CRS said it was “difficult to track the exact number or current policies of sanctuary jurisdictions at any given point, because jurisdictions may periodically change their policies regarding their level of cooperation with ICE.’’