The Trump administration opened up a new salvo against sanctuary cities on Tuesday -- moving to make immigration enforcement a pre-condition for receiving key law enforcement grants.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday evening that applicants for Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants will be required to certify that they'll cooperate with federal immigration enforcement more extensively than in the past, a move that is likely to generate court challenges quickly from advocates and state and local jurisdictions who have opposed President Donald Trump's efforts.
Among the requirements: Letting federal authorities access detainees in jails to inquire about immigration status and giving the federal government 48 hours' notice before any inmate they're interested in is released.
The term sanctuary city loosely refers to jurisdictions that in some way do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Localities have a variety of justifications for doing so, from protecting undocumented immigrants to preserving law enforcement's ability to gain the trust and cooperation of communities. Some jurisdictions have also been barred by the courts from complying with certain federal requests.
Trump himself railed against sanctuary cities during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, on Tuesday. He drew out a long and graphic description of violent gang members torturing and killing young women.
"These are the animals that we've been protecting for so long," Trump said. "Well, they're not being protected any longer folks. And that is why my administration is launching a nationwide crackdown on sanctuary cities."
He hailed legislation in Congress targeting sanctuary cities and Kate's Law, named for a woman allegedly murdered by an undocumented immigrant. He called on the Senate to vote on the bills now that they had passed the House.
"We've got to get it passed," he said.
Sanctuary cities have been a key focus of the Trump administration and Republicans in Washington. The President signed an executive order in January that threatened to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, which immediately prompted a court challenge.
A federal judge this spring blocked the administration from enforcing that order broadly -- limiting them to restricting the Edward Byrne grants based on a piece of law that requires localities to communicate immigration information about individuals to the federal government when asked.
After issuing a memo stating that the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security didn't intend to go after any other federal monies, the government asked the judge to lift his block of the policy, but he rejected their request last week.
Tuesday's move expands the requirements that the Justice Department will place on the grants, which go to state and local jurisdictions for a range of crime fighting programs and issues like drugs, gangs and domestic violence.
Sanctuary jurisdictions will likely be quick to challenge the expansion as an overreach by the federal government.
The requirement to comply with the law requiring communication of immigration status was actually put in place last summer by the Obama administration, but virtually every city has said they are in compliance.
The new requirements, though, add demands on cities that go beyond what is mandated in law.
Some jurisdictions do deny immigration officers access to their jails as a blanket policy, and may not always provide notice of when a suspected deportable immigrant is being released. Tuesday's announcement would ban those jurisdictions from receiving the grants.
The Justice Department, however, stopped short of requiring compliance with "detainers" -- requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold individuals suspected of being in the country illegally an extra 48 hours beyond when they would otherwise be released from custody. The administration has made complying with detainers a key piece of their efforts on sanctuary cities, although nothing in law requires local law enforcement to comply.
In fact, the latest slap from the courts came on Monday, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that it is a violation of state law to ask local law enforcement to comply with detainer requests without a criminal warrant, based on the fact that immigration violations are a civil crime -- and thus Massachusetts law enforcement cannot arrest a person and hold them based on a civil infraction.
DHS has maintained that taking dangerous individuals into custody is best in jails -- where the environment is controlled. The department says when jurisdictions refuse to allow ICE into jails, officers are forced to make arrests in communities, where the risk of an altercation or the arrest of bystanders is increased.