Six attorneys general filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of the Trump administration threat to withhold critical public safety funds from so-called sanctuary cities and states.
The administration’s tactic involving the public safety money is a bid to coerce local law enforcement to do the work of federal immigration officers. In response, the attorneys general in their suit argued that the Department of Justice’s attempts to set local and state law enforcement policy violates the Constitution.
The states represented by the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York are Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington. Together, the six stand to lose about $25 million in funding, with $9 million at stake for New York alone.
States use funds allotted via the federal program, known as “Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants” (Byrne JAG), to pay for measures that reduce sexual assault, elder abuse, gun violence and drug addiction, among other things.
“Local law enforcement has the right to decide how to meet their local public safety needs ― and the Trump administration simply does not have the right to require state and local police to act as federal immigration agents,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a release announcing the suit.
Instead of allowing New York’s law enforcement agencies to determine how best to keep New Yorkers safe, the Trump administration is threatening to withhold vital public safety funds.
“Instead of allowing New York’s law enforcement agencies to determine how best to keep New Yorkers safe, the Trump administration is threatening to withhold vital public safety funds,” she said. “This is a political attack on New Yorkers, at the expense of our public safety ― and it is unlawful. So we will see the Trump administration in court.”
Broadly speaking, sanctuary jurisdictions limit local cooperation with federal immigration officials. In practice, that means police officers in sanctuary cities don’t alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when they arrest an undocumented immigrant.
Evidence indicates such cities are actually safer as a result, as the immigrant community is more likely to inform police of criminal activity when they don’t fear being arrested themselves.