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Verdicts & Settlements

Colorado Ruling: Trump Can’t Bully States into Giving Up Sanctuary Policies

— May 9, 2020

The ruling may impact similar lawsuits against the Trump administration, which have been filed by sanctuary cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

A federal judge has ruled in favor of Colorado, which had filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration amidst disagreements on sanctuary-style immigration policies.

According to The Colorado Sun, Senior U.S. District Court Judge John Kane has ordered the federal Department of Justice to reach an agreement with Colorado. The lawsuit, says the Sun, stems from the Trump administration’s decision to withhold Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants for the 2018 fiscal year.

“Congress crafted the Byrne JAG program as a means of supporting local law enforcement,” Kane wrote in a 41-page ruling, announced Thursday. “By imposing conditions on Byrne JAG grants for which it has no statutory authority, DOJ has exceeded the power carefully delegated to it by Congress to administer that program.”

In an older article, published last March, the Sun noted that Colorado has used Byrne grants for a variety of different reasons and purpose. The state had budgeted anticipated 2018 funds to pay for “everything from new police radios at Fort Lewis College in Durango to therapeutic mentoring of youth at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.”

However, the Trump administration has long used federal funds as a way to coerce states into compliance with its policies.

An ICE officer in Florida. Image via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Flickr. Public domain.

Colorado—like a number of other states, as well as many cities—has implemented an assortment of “sanctuary”-style policies, intended to shield undocumented immigrants from arrest and deportation. Advocates of sanctuary policies say they facilitate trust between migrant communities and local law enforcement, driving down crime rates by dispelling immigrants’ fear of law enforcement in the event they witness or fall victim to a crime.

The Trump administration, though, maintains that sanctuary policies actually encourage crime. While running for office in 2016, President Trump regularly emphasized crimes committed against U.S. citizens by undocumented migrants—some of whom had previously been arrested, but were not deported due to local sanctuary policies.

Although the federal government has not been able to force states and cities to rescind sanctuary laws, it has—somewhat paradoxically–threatened to withhold federal funds earmarked for law enforcement.

When Colorado’s lawsuit was announced last spring, Gov. Jared Polis said the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding sets a disturbing precedent.

“Today, it’s about justice grants for unrelated immigration conditions,” Polis said. “Under this precedent, tomorrow it could be our healthcare dollars or support for childhood nutrition, or some other federal policy with no connection to the welfare of our residents. Federal law is not subject to the whim of the president.”

Polis said Colorado’s immigration policies, for better or worse, “just [don’t’] matter in the legal context of the case.”

Commenting on Kane’s recent ruling, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser reiterated the illegality of the Trump administration’s bully tactics.

“I am pleased that a federal judge has ruled that the Justice Department violated the law when it withheld federal public safety grants because our state would not comply with unlawful immigration-related conditions,” Weiser said in a late April statement. “Withholding congressionally appropriated funds to state and local law enforcement agencies because they do not meet new conditions that are not authorized by Congress is an illegal overreach by the Justice Depart. Today’s ruling is a victory for the rule of law, for law enforcement agencies in Colorado, and for public safety.”


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