DOJ ramps up sanctuary cities battle as court deals it another blow

The Trump administration on Wednesday launched a new volley against jurisdictions it considers to be so-called sanctuary cities — even as a federal judge put the brakes on a similar attempt earlier in the day.

The Justice Department sent out letters to 29 cities, counties and states Wednesday afternoon warning them they may not be complying with an obscure law required to receive federal law enforcement grants.

The individualized letters point to specific policies in those jurisdictions DOJ says may be problematic, according to copies obtained by CNN. The Justice Department is giving the jurisdictions until December 8 to respond — it has not yet moved to reject funding applications or claw back grant money that was previously issued.

The move came the same day that a federal judge in ongoing litigation over sanctuary cities in Pennsylvania dealt the administration the latest blow to its efforts to punish sanctuary cities, barring the Justice Department from taking the grant funds away from the city of Philadelphia over the compliance issue. Federal judges have already twice limited the administration on its efforts to block funds.

At the center of both disputes is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program, which gives local jurisdictions millions of dollars yearly to support law enforcement.

The term sanctuary city loosely refers to jurisdictions that in some way do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The stated reasons vary, 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.

The only requirement in federal law, though, is what’s known as Section 1373, which bars jurisdictions from restricting or prohibiting the sending of immigration information about individuals to federal authorities. The Obama administration placed compliance with 1373 as a requirement on justice assistance grants funds in 2016.

That law has been interpreted as a requirement to provide information on individuals when asked by the government, but not a proactive mandate to collect or share such info unprompted. In the letters sent Wednesday, though, the Justice Department pointed to several laws and policies in localities and states that restrict the collection of the information or proactive sharing of it.

The 29 jurisdictions warned Wednesday were: Albany, New York; Berkeley, California; Bernalillo County, New Mexico; Burlington, Vermont; Contra Costa County, California; the city and county of Denver, Colorado; Fremont, California; Jackson, Mississippi; King County, Washington; Lawrence, Massachusetts; Los Angeles; Louisville metro, Kentucky; Middlesex, New Jersey; Monterey County, California; Multnomah County, Oregon; Newark, New Jersey; Riverside County, California; Sacramento County, California; the city and county of San Francisco; Santa Ana, California; Santa Clara County, California; Seattle; Sonoma County, California; Washington DC; Watsonville, California; West Palm Beach, Florida; Illinois; Oregon; Vermont.