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Judge Blocks Trump's Funding Rules for 'Sanctuary Cities'

In a ruling with national significance, a federal judge in Chicago on Friday blocked the Trump administration's rules requiring so-called sanctuary cities to cooperate with immigration agents in order to get a public safety grant.

By Jason Meisner and John Byrne

In a ruling with national significance, a federal judge in Chicago on Friday blocked the Trump administration's rules requiring so-called sanctuary cities to cooperate with immigration agents in order to get a public safety grant.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber held that Chicago has shown a "likelihood of success" in its arguments that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions exceeded his authority in imposing new standards governing Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants across the country.

He also said Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has shown the city could suffer "irreparable harm" in its relationship with the immigrant community if it were to comply with the U.S. Department of Justice's new standards.

"Once such trust is lost, it cannot be repaired through an award of money damages, making it the type of harm that is especially hard to rectify" were he to wait until the lawsuit is settled, Leinenweber wrote in the 41-page ruling.

The preliminary injunction granted by Leinenweber applies to districts nationwide.

At a hastily arranged news conference at City Hall on Friday, Emanuel cast the ruling as a national victory against the immigration policies of President Donald Trump.

"I want to be clear, this is not just a victory for the city of Chicago," the mayor said. "It is a win for cities, counties and states across the country who also filed amicus briefs on behalf of our lawsuit, and also the business leaders who also stepped forward on our lawsuit."

City Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel said 37 municipal and county governments filed friends-of-the-court briefs in the case.

Emanuel went on to call the ruling "an affirmation of the rule of law."

"It's an assertion of our most fundamental American values, and it's an unambiguous, clear rejection of the false choice that the Trump Justice Department wanted Chicago to make between our values, our principles and our priorities," Emanuel said.

Representatives of the Justice Department did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Options include asking Leinenweber to reconsider his ruling or filing an appeal directly to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling comes a little more than a month after the Emanuel administration filed suit against the Justice Department over its new requirements for sanctuary cities that want federal funding to give notice when immigrants in the country illegally are about to be released from custody and allow immigration agents access to local jails.

The new regulations, announced by Sessions in July, would also require local authorities to give 48 hours' notice "where practicable" before releasing from custody people who federal immigration agents suspect of being in the country illegally.

In oral arguments last month, lawyers for the city argued that keeping people longer than 48 hours is unconstitutional and that the move by Sessions represented a slippery slope that could lead to other strings on federal money tied to administration priorities.

Chicago has already applied for $1.5 million in Byrne grants for next year, and other local municipalities and Cook County have requested about $800,000 more as part of the same application.

It's a minuscule piece of Chicago's roughly $9.8 billion municipal budget. Politically, however, the issue has taken on importance for the mayor, who wants to establish himself as a leader among the country's mayors.

The ruling Friday means Emanuel gets to claim a victory over the Trump Justice Department that could appeal to Chicago's sizable Latino community and the city's overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

And with Leinenweber's ruling being applied nationwide, he can point to a signature moment in the movement of big-city mayors across the U.S. taking steps to oppose Trump's immigration agenda.

Emanuel has been declaring himself a protector of immigrants in the U.S. illegally since before Trump was sworn in, appearing with U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez within days of Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton to promise he would stand up for Chicago's "values and principles as it relates to inclusion."

It's a theme he has hammered in the months since, sponsoring various pro-immigrant measures in the City Council and declaring Chicago a city that will continue to welcome immigrants.

Arguing for the city last week, attorney Ronald Safer said the Byrne grants were set up specifically by Congress to give local governments leeway to decide how best to allocate money to meet their law-enforcement priorities. Sessions is attempting to "sweep away the goals of the (Byrne) JAG program," Safer said.

If Sessions is allowed to take this step, he could conceivably try to exercise much broader authority over what cities have to do to qualify for this or other grants, Safer said.

"This attorney general could say, 'We believe building a wall is related to law enforcement, so unless you send four squads of Chicago police to help build the wall, you will get no JAG money,'" Safer said.

Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler countered there are already several strings attached to the Byrne grants, among them an Obama-administration requirement that cities don't use the money on military-style weapons. Standards are also in place for the types of police body armor that can be purchased with the money, Readler said.

If Chicago doesn't like the rules, the city can simply opt not to apply for the money, Readler said.

But in his ruling Friday, Leinenweber was clear that the attorney general overstepped his authority by imposing the special conditions, agreeing with the city's argument that it was an attempt to usurp power from Congress over the country's purse strings.

"The Executive Branch cannot impose the conditions without congressional authority," wrote Leinenweber, adding that "efforts to impose them violate the separation of powers doctrine."

Leinenweber, 80, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. He previously served as a Republican representative in the Illinois House from 1973 to 1983.

At Friday's news conference, Emanuel noted the Byrne grants are awarded based on a population formula. He said he looks forward to the Justice Department responding to Chicago's application to the funds with $1.5 million he plans to spend on Shot Spotter technology _ which captures audio of gunfire and attempts to pinpoint its location for officers to respond more quickly.

Asked if he's concerned the Trump administration will try to find another reason not to award Chicago the money, Emanuel contended federal officials have no further way to do so.

"In my view, there's no cloud as it relates to trying to use the Byrne grant to coerce the city off its values. The judge was very clear about that," Emanuel said. "We have an application. I'm letting you know the application is in."

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Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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