Capitol Alert

California sues Trump administration over threats to ‘sanctuary cities’

California filed a lawsuit Monday against the Trump administration over its threats to withhold public safety funds from so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Monday.

The move follows a U.S. Department of Justice directive issued by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in July that seeks to require cities and counties that declare themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in order to receive federal law enforcement grants.

Becerra called the federal directive “unconstitutional” and “unlawful,” saying in a statement that the Trump administration “cannot manipulate federal grant fund requirements to pressure states, counties or municipalities to enforce federal immigration laws.”

He also argued that it’s up to Congress to appropriate federal grant funding, not Sessions’ Department of Justice.

“The Trump administration is starting with the very misguided premise (that) immigrants are a danger to the public or our public safety. That could be no further from the truth,” Becerra said at a press conference in San Francisco with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who filed a parallel lawsuit Monday on behalf of the city. “It’s our right and it’s our duty to fight to protect our law enforcement officers ... and to protect the resources that they rely upon.

“We’re in the public safety business. We’re not in the deportation business.”

California receives $28 million in law enforcement grants annually, according to Becerra. That funding could be in jeopardy.

In the July 25 directive, Sessions outlined new requirements for local jurisdictions in order to remain eligible for the public safety grants. The federal governments wants to give immigration agents more authority to interrogate detainees held in local jails and other detention facilities, and to give 48 hours notice to federal immigration officials before undocumented detainees are set to be released.

“So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said in a statement.

Becerra and California lawmakers disagree with him and have pointed out that those who commit crimes are not given safe haven. Becerra said Monday that threatening to hold back law enforcement grants actually undermines public safety. The grants in question fund a broad range of programs targeting crime prevention, drug treatment and mental health care.

“We’re intent on fighting crime. We’re intent on stopping anyone who would try to deny us the dollars we have earned to provide resources to the men and women who wear the badge,” Becerra said.

Trump has sought previously to restrict federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, issuing an executive order in late January arguing they “willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States.” Trump argued in the order that the federal government can withhold funding from such jurisdictions for allegedly violating federal law. The executive order is being challenged in the courts and is on hold.

Becerra in June issued a friend-of-the-court brief, backing lawsuits filed by San Francisco, Richmond and Santa Clara County challenging the executive order on sanctuary cities.

The state Legislature, meanwhile, has advanced a bill that would essentially make California the nation’s first sanctuary state, barring state and local law enforcement from using resources to help federal immigration agents target immigrants who haven’t been convicted of a violent crime. Senate Bill 54 passed the Senate floor and could clear the Assembly and head to Gov. Jerry Brown before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Sept. 15.