A federal appeals court handed the Trump administration a significant legal victory Wednesday, ruling that Attorney General William Barr has the authority to deny federal law enforcement grants to states and local governments that maintain “sanctuary” immigration laws to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Wednesday’s ruling from a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a 2018 district court decision which blocked the Department of Justice from withholding millions of dollars in Justice Assistance Grants (JAGs)–also known as “Byrne Grants”–from cities and states that refused to comply with three immigration-related conditions designed assist federal immigration officers apprehend illegal immigrants.
To be eligible for the grants, the DOJ requires cities and states to do as follows:
(1) comply with federal law prohibiting any restrictions on the communication of citizenship and alien status information with federal immigration authorities, see 8 U.S.C. § 1373;
(2) provide federal authorities, upon request, with the release dates of incarcerated illegal aliens; and
(3) afford federal immigration officers access to incarcerated illegal aliens.
While the case implicates highly polarizing issues at the forefront of the nation’s political zeitgeist, as well as foundational constitutional principles such as federalism and separation of powers , the court primarily relied on a statutory construction analysis. It concluded that “the plain language of the relevant statutes authorizes the Attorney General to impose the challenged conditions.”
According to Circuit Judge Reena Raggi, a George W. Bush appointee, Congress empowered the attorney general to place “special conditions” on such grants if they are made in pursuit of enforcing federal immigration law.
“But more to the authorization point, they ensure that applicants satisfy particular statutory grant requirements imposed by Congress and subject to Attorney General oversight,” she wrote, specifically pointing out that state and local governments were required to submit grant applications–subject to DOJ approval–before receiving grant funds.
Citing to the 2012 Supreme Court case Arizona v. United States, the court held that the federal government maintains “broad” and “preeminent” power in deciding immigration policy and States local governments are prohibited from pursuing “policies that undermine federal law.”
“As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote over 200 years ago [in McCulloch v. Maryland], ‘the states have no power, by taxation or otherwise, to retard, impede, burden, or in any manner control, the operations of the constitutional laws enacted by congress to carry into execution the powers vested in the general government,” Raggi wrote. “This fundamental principle, a bedrock of our federalism, is no less applicable today. Indeed, it pertains with particular force when, as here, Congress acts pursuant to its power under the Spending Clause.”
Read the full Second Circuit decision below.
[image via NICHOLAS KAMM_AFP via Getty Images]