By Bob Egelko
Attorney General Jeff Sessions' claim that President Trump won't strip federal funding from San Francisco, Santa Clara County and other sanctuary locales for refusing to cooperate with immigration officers was an "illusory promise," a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick III of San Francisco rejected Trump administration requests to reconsider the nationwide injunction he issued in April, prohibiting the threatened cutoffs of federal funds, in response to lawsuits by San Francisco and Santa Clara County. Orrick also refused to dismiss the lawsuits.
Trump issued an executive order Jan. 25 saying he would penalize cities and counties that violated federal immigration law. San Francisco and Santa Clara County deny any such violations but said in court filings that the order threatens hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in their in their annual funding.
Orrick, in his April 25 injunction, said Trump's order and his public statements foreshadowed a wholesale takeaway of federal funding, which is beyond the president's constitutional authority.
Justice Department lawyers argued, however, that Sessions had eliminated any such prospect with a May 22 memorandum. The memo -- which the department described as binding on all government agencies -- interpreted Trump's order to apply only to a limited number of federal grants, expressly tied to compliance with immigration law, and totaling less than $1 million a year for San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.
Orrick was unpersuaded. The two-page document contained no legal analysis and could be disregarded whenever the administration chose to do so, he said.
"The attorney general could, at any time, revoke the AG memorandum and issue new guidance," Orrick said. "Or the president could replace the attorney general to evoke it. ... The AG memorandum is functionally an illusory promise to enforce the executive order narrowly."
He also said the Trump administration has repeatedly accused San Francisco of violating federal law -- as recently as July 12, the day of the most recent hearing on the case, when Sessions told a law enforcement gathering in Las Vegas that San Francisco, among other cities, was "protecting criminals rather than law-abiding residents" by refusing to cooperate with immigration authorities.
The underlying dispute is whether the law requires cities only to provide information on local inmates' immigration status, as San Francisco and Santa Clara County do, or to prolong their confinement when federal agents want to pick them up for deportation.
"Immigration enforcement is the federal government's job, and San Francisco does not interfere with that," City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in response to Orrick's ruling. "We're pleased the court saw through the Trump administration's sleight-of-hand."
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