Federal judge blocks Trump from defunding sanctuary cities

A federal judge has barred the Trump administration from withholding funds from so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to implement Washington’s latest, stringent immigration policies.

Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that the Justice Department cannot keep public safety grant money from sanctuary cities, such as Chicago, until the city’s lawsuit against the Department is decided.

Chicago city officials filed suit against the Justice Department in August, claiming they were being “blackmailed” into implementing the Department’s policies. They claim Attorney General Jeff Sessions overstepped his bounds by requiring cities to give federal immigration officials access to their jails, among other things.

At least other seven cities and counties have also refused to implement the new rules.

In a temporary victory for these cities, Mr Leinenweber halted the withholding of funds nationwide, saying there is “no reason to think that the legal issues present in this case are restricted to Chicago or that the statutory authority given to the Attorney General would differ in another jurisdiction”.

The city of Chicago, a frequent target of criticism from Mr Trump, recently applied for $2.2m in public safety funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grant programme. But in July, the Department of Justice announced that the grant money would only be given to cities that “comply with federal law, allow federal immigration access to detention facilities, and provide 48 hours notice before they release an illegal alien wanted by federal authorities.”

“This administration will not simply give away grant dollars to city governments that proudly violate the rule of law and protect criminal aliens at the expense of public safety,” Mr Sessions said at the time.

The grant money is meagre compared to Chicago’s operating budget, but winning it would be a symbolic victory for the city. Chicago officials, including Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, have long opposed the Trump administration’s crack-down on undocumented immigrants.

“We want you to come to Chicago if you believe in the American dream,” Mr Emanuel, a Democrat, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow last month. “By forcing us, or the police department, to choose between the values of the city and the philosophy of the police department, in community policing, I think it’s a false choice and it undermines our actual safety agenda.”

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