The Trump administration scored an important, and surprising, legal victory when a U.S. appellate court panel ruled that “community policing” grants can be withheld from sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
Los Angeles police officials had requested $3.125 million in “Community Oriented Policing Services” (COPS) funding to hire 25 officers to “build trust and respect.” Though LA is home to an estimated 1 million illegal aliens, the city’s application did not cite “illegal immigration” as a reason for the new hires. Nor did it indicate officers would cooperate with federal authorities to help deport illegal aliens from local jails.
Those two omissions turned out to be costly. The Department of Justice (DOJ) rejected the city’s bid, and a three-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial this month.
“[The DOJ] has reasonably determined that illegal immigration enforcement is a public safety issue” that can be addressed through “the principles of community policing,” Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote in the 2-1 decision.
“Cooperation relating to enforcement of federal immigration law is in pursuit of the general welfare, and meets the low bar of being germane to the federal interest in providing the funding to address crime and disorder problems, and otherwise … enhance public safety … one of the main purposes for which the grant is intended,” she concluded.
Ikuta, appointed by President George W. Bush, was joined in the majority by fellow Bush appointee Jay Bybee. In dissent, Judge Kim Wardlaw, appointed by President Bill Clinton, argued that the Justice Department illegally “decided to usurp COPS funds for its own immigration policy directives.”
Judge Wardlaw and sanctuary city officials in LA need to catch up with the times. Since 2017, the DOJ scoring system for competitive COPS grants has awarded extra points to departments seeking to hire officers to help federal authorities deport illegal aliens.
David Levine, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, three blocks from the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court, noted: “Before, the Justice Department was trying to force sanctuary cities to do things, and yank money from them retroactively if they didn’t. Now [DOJ] is saying, ‘You don’t have to take this money, but if you want it, it comes with strings attached.’ That’s a well-understood way the federal government gets states to do things.”
Indeed, “strings” have always been attached to government grants. It’s heartening to see judges on one of the nation’s most liberal courts affirming that sanctuary city police departments are not entitled to remuneration for subverting immigration enforcement and flouting U.S. law.